Holly Black makes her fourth appearance on Girls Underground (after the three Modern Faerie books, The Good Neighbors graphic novel, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) with The Darkest Part of the Forest, another remarkably well-written YA novel that understands the perils of dealing with Faerie.
What’s interesting to me about this one is that I didn’t actually notice that it was a GU story until I was finished. Part of that was simply just being captivated by the book enough not to be analyzing it as I went along. Another part was the lack of an obvious adversary until toward the end. Actually, what I noticed most was how refreshingly unstereotypical her characters were – when Hazel and her brother Ben play pretend as children, it is Hazel who is the knight, and her brother who falls for the handsome prince. And yet, Hazel is not presented as unfeminine or in any way strange for being the adventurous, heroic and even violent one.
Hazel lives in a town surrounded by Faerie, where the unusual is usual. For the most part, humans and fairies live side by side in an uneasy truce. But one day, the mysterious fairy prince who has been sleeping in a glass casket in the forest for as long as anyone remembers, disappears – and it seems Hazel is somehow responsible, although she cannot remember how. This leads to a lot of revelations about the past, a deal she made with the fairies, her brother’s struggles, and the way she inadvertently became controlled by the fairy king.
There are enough GU tropes for it to qualify – Hazel’s parents are classically distracted and uninvolved, she makes a foolish wish that sets everything in motion, she has an otherworldly companion in the form of a changeling boy, there is a male adversary who she must confront alone in the end, she spends time forgetting herself, etc. But somehow, the way the story is presented (where a lot of the crucial plot elements are only revealed in flashbacks) and the fact that Hazel doesn’t really go anywhere new, made it slip past my radar at first. Still, I’m very glad I have a policy of reading anything Holly Black writes, because it led me to this book even if I wasn’t expecting it to be GU.