This was great fun! I loved the way Black plays with some of the more common tropes in YA.
In the woods is a glass coffin. It rests on the ground, and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives….Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy. But visitors fail to see the danger.Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.Until one day, he does….As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be. But as she’s swept up in new love, with shifting loyalties and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?The Darkest Part of the Forest, is the bestselling author Holly Black’s triumphant return to the opulent, enchanting faerie tales that launched her YA career.
To begin with, this is a standalone. That almost never happens in YA anymore and I appreciate that it’s a whole story even though I do love the world building. Then it’s also about faeries. I’m not one for faeries most of the time, but something had made me put this book on my wish list at the library and it was the first audiobook I had come to on the day I downloaded it to my app. I just figured past-me had decided it was going to be interesting and went with it. The audiobook is narrated by Lauren Fortgang.
The story predominantly surrounds Hazel and Ben and their decisions, but these characters don’t exactly follow gender role while not residing completely on the opposing sides of the spectrum when it comes to their genders either. To be more specific, Hazel isn’t girly, but she’s still feminine and Ben is neither macho nor effeminate. Ben is also gay, which makes his standing in the middle of what is expected for a male character all the better for me. While I do understand that there are effeminate gay men, I feel like fiction would have you believe that it is the only way to be gay sometimes. Maybe it’s just tv and movies, though since First Kisses and Other Misfortunes by Kimberly Karalius had the same dynamic with the gay characters being not strictly effeminate.
Having Ben as a gay character, also allows Black to another fun thing. She combines some of the brother-sister struggles with some struggles that are typically reserved for sisters, like having a crush on or having romantic associations with the same boy. I don’t know how true to life that is, but they tend to lean more on confused boys who aren’t sure if they are also gay and those who aren’t ready to be out right at the beginning. Ben is sure of himself, others are not, and this creates confusion and tension for our siblings as sometimes both have feelings for the boy. I hope that wasn’t confusing but I don’t want to give away any big reveals either.
I truly enjoyed reading a book about a brother and sister who actually like each other too. They aren’t besties and definitely have their own separate personalities and preferences in life but they look out for each other. They care about each other. And they mess it up sometimes too but never getting so angsty and dramatic that it seems more like someone’s ridiculous version of what teenagers are like. Families are complicated and this book does a great job with a brother-sister dynamic. There is some teenage drama but it’s not all angst and ridiculousness like some books may want people to believe all teens are like. They’re capable of assessing dangerous situations and making some adult decisions and dealing with consequences. They do have reason and accountability and are not completely ruled by hormones, just partially, sometimes. They are gaining experience to deal with situations better but aren’t complete idiots in the mean time.
There are other great things in the book, but I feel like those would spoil it. Suffice it to say that while many typically YA behaviors/tropes are present, I didn’t feel like they were rooted in the same places that I’ve grown tired of them, like villain motivations. Everything is just similar enough to be familiar but then changed ever so slightly that I wasn’t sure until it happened. The book’s sole claim to diversity is the LGBT characters. I felt like it dealt well with the LGBT aspect of those characters, but I am completely aware that I could be wrong due to the fact that I am not LGBT nor do I know many people who are. If you disagree, share it and I can amend. I’d hate for misinformation to set people up for disappointment. Until then, great book! I loved what she did to all the characters and taking them outside my expectations!