The Darkest Part of the Forest
Spoiler Rating: High-ish
This could be a very short letter; it’d read Yep, your review‘s spot on, followed by my thanks for saving me the trouble of having to type it up myself. Because really, you covered my thoughts perfectly.
But that’d feel like cheating (and wouldn’t involve any pictures), so let’s see if I can summarize and maybe add to what you’ve already covered.
My reaction to this book was simultaneous fangirling, indignation, and boredom; that’s a horrible combination, and at this point, I have no idea how many stars to give it. Almost makes me want to adopt your no-stars-ever brand of reviewing.
Let’s try to talk this out.
In the woods is a glass coffin. It rests right 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 wonderfully 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?
I was all over:
- A girl who dreams of being a monster-slaying knight–who then discovers a sword (in a lake, because obviously) and realizes she must pursue that dream regardless of how gruesome the reality of it is.
- A boy who fantasizes that his love can awaken the sleeping faerie prince, and that the prince will love him back.
- A changeling boy who’s raised human, and whom the heroine forgets isn’t human until he begins to show just how inhuman he can be.
- Noble dreams being granted in horrible, horrible ways that make the dreamer feel sick for ever dreaming in the first place. (No excerpt picture for this one, to minimize spoilers, but holy crap I loved this so much; it isn’t often that a story’s Great Betrayal is performed by the betrayed character themselves. So good.)
I wish I could give the book a star for each of these elements and leave it at that. But no. It goes downhill from here.
There were many things–which you’ve already covered, Lizzie–that were sloppily presented in just the right way to make me feel rather insulted as a reader.
1. Parental absence/neglect
“This is meant to be the emotional core of the story,” you said, and I’m inclined to agree. Shame that it’s not particularly successful.
Yes, absent/neglectful parents provide an acceptable explanation for many YA books’ surprisingly mature, independent, adult-like teen protagonists. But I’m sick to death of bohemian, artsy parents who’re sooo devoted to their art that they have bills to pay and food to buy and oh yeah children to take care of.
Usually I can roll my eyes once at these parents and let the issue go, but this book kept throwing them at me.
And it wasn’t just in a “Oh, here’s the reason why Hazel’s been able to tromp around killing faeries with a real sword since she was nine” sort of way (though that was a huge part of it); it was also in a “Oh, but they aren’t actually bad parents, see, they’re really loving and supportive now, isn’t that great?” sort of way.
I can get over a book’s conveniently absent parents, but I really start struggling when parents morph into the responsible, concerned, hug-offering type just in time for the book’s emotional conclusion–especially if parenting (or neglect, or relationships, etc.) is significant to the story, and especially if the damage caused by neglect is waved away as unimportant, as it is here.
That said, I did appreciate that they were contrasted by a few other sets of parents:
(a) Jack’s (human) parents, who provide Jack and his brother Carter with a well-maintained home, new clothes, emotional support, motivation to get good grades and enter good colleges, etc.,
(b) Jack’s (faerie) parents, who I won’t go into for spoiler reasons,
(c) the faerie prince’s father, who is off-the-rails vicious and cruel, and who (among other things) cursed his son to an eternal magical slumber for disobeying him.
So the town of Fairfold–actually, just read this:
Imagine me with hands raised to the heavens begging whyyyy.
Why doesn’t anyone outside of Fairfold notice four to eight tourists being brutally murdered/turned into stone/whatever every year? Why doesn’t anyone (outside or inside Fairfold) do anything about it? Why do all the townsfolk of Fairfold (which is tiny) know about the faeries, but its police and emergency personnel somehow don’t, and get confused and dismissive when confronted with what is clearly magic? Why do all of the townsfolk know about the faeries except that one girl, Molly, for no apparent reason, despite her being a local and partying at the sleeping prince’s glass coffin like all the other locals?
I have so many desperate worldbuilding whyyys to complain about, and every single one of them pisses me off.
My plotting complaints are no different.
Why did the vicious Alderking suddenly decide (about 15 years ago) to let his faeries start killing humans? If faeries are so naturally bloodthirsty, why did he prevent them from killing humans in the first place? Why is he all offended that humans went to look at his son, whom he left in an enchanted sleep in the forest where anyone can find him? Why does he want to waste time destroying Fairfold when he could just, you know, get on with his revenge-against-the-Eastern-Court plan?
And so on, regarding too many different aspects of the plot.
You already know why these questions upset me: because the most obvious answer to them is because that’s what the author required for the story/scene/line of dialogue to work. The plot (and worldbuilding) felt unconsidered and haphazard in a way that does, as you mentioned, seem to imply the author wrote without an outline, hoping that everything would come together along the way. And I am not a fan.
This book feels kind of tailor-made for me. So why the boredom?
Shallow, stilted, and rushed writing.
1. Jack vs. Townsfolk
Once the action really kicks off and Things Start Going Down (faerie-attacks style), the townsfolk decide that Jack’s to blame; he’s a changeling raised as a human, so he has to be linked to the attacks, right? Thus begins some conflict about defending Jack’s honor against the townsfolk, who want to toss him back to the ravaging faeries in hopes of appeasing them.
But this conflict felt shallow and sudden; no one looked twice at Jack before this, but suddenly everyone was afraid of him and certain that he was somehow to blame for the attacks. Attacks made by bloodthirsty creatures who have been picking off tourists by the handful for years. But oh, suddenly it’s Jack’s fault, yep, naturally.
Until the very end, that is, when we’re assured that the townsfolk’s fear of Jack will disappear as quickly as it came:
That’s not what I wanted to hear. Who can get emotionally involved in a conflict that flares up out of, then disappears into, the clear blue? Not me.
2. Hazel’s Scars
Hazel endures some pretty traumatic stuff over the course of the story, and we’re explicitly told toward the end that her experiences will scar her.
Except she’s left remarkably scar-free. No struggling with, I don’t know, nightmares or guilt or PTSD or anything.
We’re specifically told that everything went back to normal, except that people sometimes asked Hazel for details about her experiences. So no scars for her after all, I guess?
The story needed more than a sentence about lingering scars; it needed to show me those scars, and how deeply they affect her. As it stands, the story concludes with an emotional thud.
3. Happily Ever After
This book concludes with two happy couples: Hazel with Jack, and Hazel’s brother Ben with the faerie prince Severin. (All the thumbs up for the prince falling in love with a boy, oh my goodness.)
But wow, I was not convinced by these romances’ closing scenes.
Hazel and Jack have a brief, stilted conversation about how Hazel’s not sure she can date him (her arguments: a. she’s traumatized by her experiences, and b. she’s not experienced at dating), which culminates in a few cheesy, unrealistic-sounding paragraphs about how neither of them is normal, so they can have a not-normal relationship.
Jack even says, “We get to make this part up. We get to tell our own story,” at the end of a book that’s groaning beneath the weight of the fairy tales and folk tales and Arthurian romances that have influenced it.
Lizzie, I melted into an exasperated puddle. The author may as well have been winking and elbowing me in the side, all, “Eh? Eh? See what I did there?” when all I wanted was for Hazel and Jack to have a good, solid, emotionally realistic conclusion.
Ben and Severin’s conclusion was more aggravating than silly: seemingly hours after the evil is defeated and Severin announces his love for Ben, Ben (who’s a high school senior, mind) packs his bags and moves in with Severin in the faerie, uh, under-hill palace place.
Right, because ditching high school before you’ve even finished it to move in with a faerie prince you’ve really only just met isn’t “running away to some other life” rather than “figuring out the one [you] have,” no, not at all. And sure, it’s totally reasonable to just assume that the immortal faerie prince who says he’s in love with you won’t agree to wait another few weeks or months for you to graduate before having you move in with him.
Is it too much of me to ask for a realistic happy ending for a boy and a faerie prince?
I still don’t know how many stars this rates. Without the gender-role reversal and gay subplot stuff, it’d probably get two and a half stars? Perhaps? I’ll give it three, I suppose. Eh.