Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Darkest Part of the Forest

Hazel and Ben Evans live in Fairfold, an odd town that lies adjacent to a magical forest. This forest is populated with faeries and supernatural monsters that usually lurk around the corners of human civilization. Chance encounters happen sometimes usually resulting in a person's good luck or death. Hazel and Ben embraced the magical danger as children as they teamed up to battle the monster as a knight and a bard. They also both made up stories about the horned boy in the glass casket in the woods. Nothing awakens him and nothing can even scratch the glass, so he lays there year after year. When Hazel and Ben have quit their adventuring and they view such things as childhood fantasy, the horned boy escapes from his glass prison. Hazel's whole world is turned upside down as she discovers those forgotten or rationalized memories of fighting magical creatures are shockingly real. Can she remember enough of her past to be able to fight in the present?

I've been a huge fan of Holly Black since reading White Cat and she has yet to disappoint me. The story immediately drew me in with the town that is both aware and in denial about the supernatural creatures and forces influencing the town in the periphery. I am a sucker for this concept. It brings to mind Sunnydale from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and New South Bend from Brenna Yovanoff's Fiendish. All of these works have a magnetic quality where the townspeople experience all this craziness, but rationalize it with normal causes. When confronted with the unbelievable reality, they tend to lash out and then go back to their comfortable, normal reality as soon as possible. Growing up in such a forest definitely affects the young people in the area while the adults seem pretty oblivious, only brought out of it by tragedy. The teens in the area are surprisingly normal despite the things they've experienced.

Hazel and Ben are pretty normal. Hazel gets herself into trouble by kissing boy after boy and living life to the fullest despite the consequences. Ben is the angsty artists type because was blessed/cursed by a faerie as a baby to have an exceptional musical talent and feels great guilt over how he has let it get out of control in the past. They are so similar in other ways. Both are boy crazy in their own way and want to find lasting love.  Both of them love each other fiercely, but also try to keep huge secrets to protect the other when it does the exact opposite. I loved reading these characters and their mistakes and blunders powered by their love. I forgave all of their sometimes frustrating mistakes because it came from a good place and they were only doing their best. I especially liked the way Ben was treated. His sexual orientation just was; no explanation or special treatment needed. No one in his life treated him any differently. The other character I loved was Jack, a changeling child all grown up and raised as human alongside the human boy he was meant to replace. The concept alone is amazing and one I haven't seen. Jack acts as the bridge between the two worlds and can't decide which one he belongs in. He has significant ties to both sides and either choice would be a betrayal.

The book is organized in an odd way. The plot isn't really solidified until much later than expected in the novel. The beginning is just establishing the world and exploring into the lives of the main characters. The plot moves forward and then there's intermittent flashbacks to show why characters are the way they are or background on what's presently happening. If you hate stories jumping around, this wouldn't be for you, but I enjoyed it. Things became clear the more the flashbacks happened and it just shows Holly Black's writing skill. The revelations are doled out carefully and bring clarity to the story. I really enjoyed the journey and exploration through Holly Black's unique world. I hope another book is in the works in the same world (because I would be all over it), but it works very well as a stand alone novel. It's one of the best reads of the year so far.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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