Goodreads: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Published: January 13, 2015
Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
Superficially speaking, The Darkest Part of the Forest should be a fantastic book. It is imaginative and bold, willing to talk about tough subjects like sexuality, moral culpability, and parental neglect while immersing readers into a world that is both dark and beautiful. Unfortunately, the book really only touches on most of these hard subjects, telling readers they are difficult, that the characters are struggling with them—but ultimately failing to make it seem as if the characters are truly engaged with them. There is breadth but no depth.
All the characters ostensibly have something to hide. Hazel wants to be a hero but doesn’t know how, and worries she might actually be villain. Her brother Ben has a magical gift he cannot control; he’d rather squash it and just find someone to fall madly in love with, who will take him away. Jack, a changeling, has been adopted by humans but yearns for his faerie roots. Combine this with an entire town, a plethora of adults, who know they are living on the borders of dangerous magic but refuse to acknowledge it, and things are really a mess.
However, for as much as the characters talk about their problems, ponder them, dwell and drown in them—none of them really caught my attention. On the surface, I understand I should be horrified by this town, by the murders the faeries commit and the way the townsfolk ignore them or victim blame. Yet…if no one in the world of the story, people who should be profoundly affected by murders in their town can find it in them to care or worry or grieve, it’s doubly hard for me as a reader to do it. The same is true of so many of the issues raised in the book. Hazel’s and Ben’s parents are guilty of neglect, but Hazel and Ben are over it. The abuse mainly acts as a plot point to explain why the two were allowed to roam the woods and hunt faeries as young children, not as something I’m supposed to see as a real concern. The same goes for Hazel’s and Ben’s romantic issues. The two may throw out some moving lines about how they fear trusting someone or just want someone to love, but as far as I can tell their strings of failed romances also act more as plot movers than character development. I just didn’t empathize with either of them.
And as far as plot goes, enough happens that theoretically the book should be interesting. Hazel, Ben, and Jack tromp all over town hunting monsters, a few people die, a few plot twists are thrown out. Yet, in the end, I was bored. Caring about the action really hinges on caring about the characters. The town in ostensibly in danger, but the journey is in truth about how Hazel and Ben come to find themselves. Fairfield seems small, and one gets the distinct sense that if people were really in danger, the entire town could just pack up and move. I think the faeries would be happy with that. No one would be pursued, and the story would just end.
I wish I could like this book better, but with characters that fail to seem real and a plot that didn’t really need to happen, I found the story disappointing. For those looking for stories about faeries, I recommend The Treachery of Beautiful Things.