The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkest part of the forestInformation

Goodreads: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: January 13, 2015

Official Summary

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.


15 thoughts on “The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

  1. aentee @ read at midnight says:

    Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the book. I think that with all the Holly Black books I’ve read I have found similar issues, she covers very dark subject but does not discuss them as deeply as I would like. I am still interested to check this one out though, as it seems like a dark fairy tale retelling of Snow White. I’ll check out your other recommendation as well. Beautifully written review, I love your way with words!


    • Briana says:

      This is the first Holly Black book I’ve read, but I’ve seen a lot of very positive reviews for it. I think it does really have a lot of imagination, but I would have liked to connect with the characters more.

      Thank you so much!


  2. jubilare says:

    It’s issues like this that I worry about with my own writing. It seems all authors have strengths and weaknesses, and I wonder how much (or little) I know my own. To craft what should be a good story, but that fails to resonate with people, is a sad thing, indeed. Though no one can please everyone. Getting over the fear and just bloody well writing in the hopes that it will resonate with someone is worth my time.


    • Briana says:

      I worry about it, too, and it’s one of the reasons I find it hard to finish writing anything I start. I read so many books where I can see that the authors TRIED to address important themes but they just fell flat. And I don’t know if there’s an obvious fix to that. if someone can read your manuscript and say “If you just change these 3 scenes and these other 2 things, I will totally care about your characters.” I think it has to be subtle, and that’s something it seems hard to “edit into” a rough draft.


      • jubilare says:

        I think that absolute honesty and putting the story and characters before any theme or message helps with that. When things fall flat, it’s usually either because the author was trying too hard to say something, and it shows, or they didn’t let the characters/story unfold naturally. But that’s just my view…

        I had to, at one point, flat out tell myself not to directly compare my writing to anyone else’s. That way lies madness. If what you learn from your reading paralyzes you, then in order to write, you need to turn away from it and write, at first, only for yourself.

        Write what you want to read. You never have to show it to anyone else unless you want to. When someone like you, who has a critical eye for stories, writes what she wants to read, chances are she will write good stories, and that is an easy way to be honest and genuine.

        Editing can do amazing things, too, as I am sure you know. I’ve watched rocks become diamonds after enough honing.

        my rambling point/advice is: don’t despair, and don’t give up. And trust your judgement and the judgement from a few well-chosen readers (if you decide to share what you write). I’m pretty convinced that good writing is 89% persistence.


        • Briana says:

          Yes! I’m convinced if I can just finish one full draft of a novel, I can edit it fifty million times from there until I have something I like.🙂 My goal was to work on that this July with Camp Nanowrimo, but I got a little behind due to family matters. I guess I still have a few days of July left!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. DoingDewey says:

    “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”<- this is how I felt about Hausfrau, so I think I'd feel the same way about this one. It's much easier to care if the characters do.


    • Briana says:

      Yes! I’m so affected by others’ emotions. I’ll cry just because someone in a movie is crying, even if I wasn’t even watching and don’t know what everyone’s sad about! But I guess the inverse is also true; if the characters don’t care, I don’t either!


  4. Alise (Readers in Wonderland) says:

    “Caring about the action really hinges on caring about the characters.” This. I couldn’t agree more. If you can’t connect to the characters or care about them, it’s really hard to care about what happens to them or root for the romance.

    Like you said, this book sounds like it would have a lot of interesting elements and be a good read but if the execution is poor, I’m not too interested. It’s a shame because I’ve enjoyed the author’s other books.

    Haven’t heard of The Treachery of Beautiful Things but I may just check that out instead.


    • Briana says:

      I stumbled onto The Treachery of Beautiful Things by accident. I haven’t seen a lot of talk about it around the blogosphere, but it’s definitely my favorite YA take on faeries.

      I’ve heard a lot of great things about Holly Black, but this is the first book of hers I’ve read. I’m pretty disappointed I didn’t like it more!

      Liked by 1 person

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