Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Pub. Date: 2015
Genre: YA Fantasy, Romance
Length: 8.5 hours
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
After learning that The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black, is in the same world as The Cruel Prince, I was willing to read it. It starts with an interesting setting, the town of Fairfold, where humans and the Folk have lived side by side for years. One of the attractions and favorite legends of the town is the horned boy who has slept in a crystal coffin in the woods for decades or centuries. Hazel and her brother, Ben, have told each other tales since they were children about the horned boy being their prince and Hazel his knight. One day, he wakes up, and the fey encroach on the locals more than ever before. The Darkest Part of the Forest is a standalone told like a fairy tale, but it fails to deliver on characters.
This is another of Black’s books that I’ve read on a PlayAway audiobook, but this one was narrated by Lauren Fortgang. Her voice has a mysterious quality that works well with the fairy-tale tone of this novel. She can equally pull off fearful humans, sing-song voices, and the sometimes creepy voices of certain fey. She’s a well-chosen narrator for this audiobook.
Something that is odd with the way this book is written is that it is technically written in three third-person limited perspectives. The perspective that follows Hazel’s is the vast majority of the book, but the other two (Ben and Jack) are suddenly inserted in a handful of places. I suppose they give some insight, mostly to build romance, but I don’t think they’re essential.
I like the stories and history of the town, and I like the shift that occurs when the horned boy wakes up. They have an interesting way of being introduced, and it makes me feel like I’ve been told the local gossip. It falls through in that the gossip says more about the characters involved than the town itself. With the way the town is written, I expected the town to be its own character. The gossip-told stories are good for the characters, but they never add real development to them. The stories are like saying that someone’s favorite color is blue. It doesn’t mean much below the surface.
For that matter, none of the characters feel fully developed, except maybe Jack Gordon, the changeling. Hazel, Ben and the faerie prince in the coffin are the most developed characters. Hazel likes kissing boys, loves her brother enough to make a stupid promise, and likes slaying monsters in the forest. As a novelty, it’s nice to see teen characters thinking about kissing. The slaying monsters part is a big role in the novel, and she sort of does that on page. The way it is executed, weighing that Hazel isn’t fully developed, reminds me of arguments that say giving a girl a sword doesn’t make your character feminist. The identity crisis that comes much later in the novel is out of place and feels ridiculous in a way that meshes with my dislike of playing with a character’s memory. Ben is reduced to the constant fear of his musical power one curse gave him and his running crush on the faerie prince. While those are big, there is no other personality to him or a series of events that change the status of either of those details. The faerie prince at one point shares his life story, but he’s as unchanging as I’ve come to expect the fae to be in Holly Black’s mind.
Jack, though, has a secret life story of communicating with the fae family that seemingly abandoned him, and they constantly make him worry about his status in the human world and whether his family loves him. Then he goes to fae events where his fae self comes to life. (And the circumstances of making him a changeling is an interesting reason for faeries to do it.) He has a real identity crisis happening. On top of that, he likes a girl who is known to be a heart-breaker. He is interesting enough that the novel could have mostly been from his perspective and have been more interesting.
On the romance end of the novel, I feel ambivalent. The first major hint of romance to come is that Hazel likes kissing boys. I like that this is a YA novel that brings back teenagers wanting to kiss other teenagers, and I like that Hazel has reasons for wanting to kiss certain people. It ends up not having a lot of meaning. Hazel’s love interests feel as fleeting as her heart-breaker reputation belies, so I don’t buy her end of the romance that occurs. I am willing to buy Jack’s, if only for it fitting the usual trope of best friend loves the girl from childhood. Ben and the faery prince’s romance is interesting, and I like that it’s part of a not-quite love triangle. Their romance also feels more one-sided on the part of the faery prince, but it was clear that Ben had a crush on the prince for years.
The falling action was as rushed as the climax. A lot happens that resolves, or changes, almost nothing in a meaningful way for the main characters. For where it concerns the female protagonist, her ending feels too easily accepted and disjointed.
I don’t consider the world building the biggest piece of this novel, but I want to leave a little comment about it. It is alright for what it is, but there is almost no logic or rules to it. What was told and shown was basic. It doesn’t feel fleshed out, and that is a disappointment after reading The Cruel Prince.
This is an okay novel, and it is very fun and soothing to listen to. I recommend reading it for the tone of the story and for the parts dealing with Jack. If you want good world building for a faerie world, pass on this novel.