Ben told stories. Hazel became those stories.
There are many ways to describe The Darkest Part of the Forest. Everyone will tell you something different, probably. To me, it’s a story about brothers and sisters.
“You and your sister are very dear to each other. To show your regard, you give each other lovely bouquets of lies.”
Hazel and her brother Ben live in a town where fae and humans live on…not exactly friendly terms, but those who are born and raised in Fairfold are relatively safe (unlike the tourists who often visit it, many of which end up missing or dead).
When they were kids, Hazel had dreamed of being a knight, and she’d become one, hunting “bad” faeries with the help of Ben’s magic. Until things became too scary and dangerous and they’d stopped. That’s when they began keeping secrets from each other.
Sparing another person is a tricky thing. It’s easy to think you’re succeeding when you’re failing spectacularly.
Hazel makes a deal with the faeries and that changes the way she goes on with her life.
She seemed to be running toward trouble, leaving no stone unturned, no boy unkissed, no crush abandoned, and no bad idea unembraced.
She and Ben are still very close but everything is different now.
Flirting didn’t mean anything to her.[…] While she was flirting, Ben was falling in love for the first time.
But one of the things they still have in common is their love for the faerie prince who sleeps in the forest, in a glass coffin, to whom they have told their secrets for many years, but who has never woken in…decades? Centuries? (I’m not entirely sure about the timing in this.)
They were in love with him because he was a prince and a faeries and magical and you were supposed to love princes and faeries and magic people. […] They loved him as they loved the Eleventh Doctor with his bow tie and his flippy hair and the Tenth Doctor with his mad laugh. […] It wasn’t like it was real. It wasn’t like he could love them back. It wasn’t he’d ever have to choose.
Except now he’d woken. That changed everything.
His awakening has moved things and there’s a monster in town that they have to defeat, with the help of Jack (Ben’s best friend and a changeling) and the faerie prince himself, who is very much involved in this whole deal.
This is a very folklore-heavy book, but it doesn’t feel heavy at all. There’s a lot of myths mentioned and interwoven in the plot, but they’re all explained (in a very nice and non-boring way – I always lose my focus right away whenever a story is told within another story, but that never happened once in this book). Furthermore, if you grew up in an English-speaking country and/or have read a lot of YA fantasy, you might be familiar with some of these already. I personally was only familiar with this one I’m about to quote and let me tell you, I got tears in my eyes because this myth is told in my favorite German poem (Der Erlkönig) and to see it mentioned in a YA book made my day.
‘But Alderking has a more sinister meaning, too. Perhaps you’ve heard this before:
“Mein Vater, mein Vater,
Jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!”’
The other myths that I actually didn’t know anything about (we don’t really study northern/Anglo-Saxon mythology in Italy -faeries and such are completely out of our lore) were extremely interesting and told in such a way that made me want to find out more about them for the first time since I started reading fantasy.
Another element that I loved in this book was the romance. Don’t let the synopsis fool you, there’s no love-triangle in this (at least I don’t see it as such). This is also a really good example of how to include more diversity in fantasy. A character just happens to be gay, and instead of being only defined by his sexual orientation, that’s just part of who he is.
Let me just add that the whole gender-role-reversal was amazingly done. Hazel was the one who wanted to be a knight and there is no shame in that. That didn’t make her masculine-looking or other stereotypes like that. Not to say that she couldn’t have been masculine-looking, but that would have really been a little bit too stereotypical and frankly we can all do without that. At the same time, Ben wasn’t just uselessly waiting for his sister to save him, and even if he wasn’t the knight, he helped fight the faeries with his magic, and saved the day at times when physical force wasn’t going to be of much help.
As I was saying, the romance. It felt refreshing in a way. There’s a lot of kissing and talking about kissing -kissing for fun, kissing because you’re scared, because you don’t know what else to do at a party, because the boy you want to kiss is the sleeping faerie prince inside the glass coffin that won’t break. If you judge Hazel for the way she acts I will personally fight you.
When actual romance (and not just random kisses) develops, it is so sweet and -combined with the amazing writing- it makes me want to reread parts of this book right away because they were just too good.
“When I heard your voice that night, I recognized it instantly. It’s a voice I know better than my own. […] You know, it nearly drove me mad to listen to so many voices, a cacophony of sound, of words I didn’t know piling up, of time slipping in skips and jumps. And then you, speaking to me-to me. I started to know the length of a day in the interval between your visits.
While reading this book, I couldn’t help often being reminded of The Raven Cycle. There are some parallels – the town where magic stuff happens, the kiss-talk – but this book is also more…grounded? I adore TRC with all my being but the actual fantastic elements can be confusing at times, just because they’re not explained, whereas with this one everything is explained and it leads back to a myth.
There are no loose ends (it’s a real standalone) and I found the ending very satisfying and I would recommend this book to everyone ☺