Monday 2 February 2015
#CBR7 Book 9: "The Darkest Part of the Forest" by Holly Black
Rating: 4 stars
In the little town of Fairfold, people know that faeries are real. You need to be careful and not call too much attention to yourself, like the tourists frequently do, or the faeries may play dangerous or even deadly pranks on you. One of the things that lures tourists to Fairfold is the glass coffin, deep in the woods. In it, there is a horned boy, sleeping eternally. He is a thing of otherworldy beauty with the tips of his ears sharp as knives. He's been sleeping there for generations, undisturbed by gawkers, tourists, partying teenagers or those desperate to try to break the coffin. Bad things tend to happen to those who try to break the coffin by force.
Ben and Hazel's parents are artists, and their mother was one of the Fairfold residents who may have called a bit too much attention to herself. Having gifted a faerie woman with a painting, her eldest child, Ben, was gifted, or possibly cursed, with the ability to play faerie music. Whether he wanted to or not, he would be compelled to play, and so well that he could enchant others with it. Hazel, still in the womb, was granted no such favours, and being the perfectly normal child in a family of distracted and dedicated artists can be a curse all on its own.
Seeing early how dangerous the faeries could be, Hazel took it upon herself to fight the worst of them, appointing herself a knight, with her brother the enchanted bard who assists her. Though only children, Ben and Hazel risked their lives to avenge tourists and Fairfold residents alike, until Ben was given a scholarship to a prestigious music academy and the family had to move away for a few years. When they weren't playing at being heroes, the two would spend hours around the glass coffin, spinning tales about the enchanted prince who slept there, telling him all their heart's desires.
Now they are both in high school, barely speaking, despite the closeness they once shared. Hazel wakes up one morning, having dragged mud and glass splinters through her bedroom window. The coffin in the wood is empty and the sleeping boy has disappeared. There is danger lurking in the dark of the forest. Can Ben and Hazel unite once more to fight it?
The sibling relationships depicted in this story felt very real to me, and there are several that are important. Hazel and Ben are close in age and due to the frequent forgetfulness and neglect of their artistic parents, they have to rely on and take care of each other, because they can't rely on their parents to always do so. Great love and sacrifice caused the rift, lack of communication and wall of lies that is between them at the start of the book and Black slowly reveals how their erstwhile closeness ended up in near estrangement. Both infatuated with the "enchanted prince" in the forest, they are shaken when he suddenly wakes up. The object of their fantasies has suddenly become a real person, who they have to relate to in a completely different way.
There are the brothers Carter and Jack, similar enough to be twins, yet only Carter is actually human. Jack is Carter's changeling, who Carter's mother insisted on keeping after she tricked his faerie mother into giving her own baby back. They look very similar, but as they get older, it's quite clear that Jack isn't like his brother or their high school friends. He has another family as well, and while he loves his human family, he is torn between two worlds. Jack is Ben's best friend, but has secretly loved Hazel for as long as he can remember. Restless, flirty Hazel who kisses all the boys, and never seems to wants anything permanent with anyone. But the evening before the sleeping boy is awoken, she kisses Jack. Could he finally convince her to actually notice him?
Finally, there is Severin, the awoken prince and his sister Sorrow, whose sibling relationship forms an important core to the dangers facing Fairfold. Tragic events led to Severin being imprisoned in the glass coffin, whilst his sister became completely consumed by her own grief. Now their father wants his children back under his control, and he isn't afraid to use underhanded methods to achieve it.
This book is also great in terms of diversity. While Jack may be a faerie who fits into the European/Celtic mythology, he is the changeling of an American child, and as such is as dark-skinned and dark-haired as the rest of his human family. Ben is openly gay and his love for Severin is both inspiring and heart-breaking at times.
Hazel is not always easy to like, but no one can fault her for being extremely brave. Sometimes to the point of insanity. She's a girl with many secrets, even from herself, it becomes obvious fairly soon. Hazel lives a double life so complex that even she's not completely aware of all the aspects of it. Having grown up in the gifted Ben's shadow, she's so determined to make something of herself, even if it means risking her life fighting dangerous faeries. She loves her brother and would do anything for him, but also believes herself to be the reason he no longer practises music and won't speak to her anymore.
Ben adores his brave little sister and forced himself to fight along side her when she appointed herself a knight. He was terrified that she would get hurt and was so relieved when he got a scholarship that could take their family away from Fairfield, where Hazel kept risking herself to protect others. But his musical abilities are both terrible and beautiful and the things he can make music do scares him, to the point where he chose to break his own hand in order to give up the music. Now he knows Hazel is keeping important things from him, not just the reason she's suddenly acting so strange around Jack. Could she really be the one who woke the sleeping prince in the forest? And if so, will the enchanted prince prefer her to Ben?
Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, a wonderful vampire story, was one of my favourite books of 2013. If there weren't so many other shiny books constantly grabbing my attention, I would re-read it right now. Holly Black first came to my attention with her Modern Faerie Tales, where she also wrote extremely engaging YA paranormal/urban fantasy featuring faeries of the not so friendly persuasion. So when I first heard about this book, back in the middle of 2013, I was very excited. It didn't disappoint. It didn't grab hold of me, making me unable to think about anything else until I finished the book, which was the case with The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but it did entertain and intrigue me and it once again reminds me that I still haven't completed her Curse Workers series, which can help pass the time until her next, hopefully awesome book, is out.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.