*This review will contain spoilers!*
I am beyond disappointed in myself, because this was the first Holly Black book I'd ever read. Ever. Yep, I am a terrible person. I've had the 'Tithe' series for years and years, I've just never gotten around to reading them, but when I heard everyone going crazy about how amazing this book was meant to be, I decided to get it as soon as it came in at the library I work at.
'The Darkest Part of the Forest' tells us the story of Fairfold, a little town where bad things happen daily, due to the faeries that live nearby. Hazel and Ben, the brother and sister that the story focuses upon, have always known that Fairfold is a dangerous place to live - they spent most of their unsupervised childhood hunting monsters, after all. But the bad things start getting worse when the horned boy, who has been asleep in a coffin in the woods for as long as anybody can remember, suddenly disappears, coffin broken into in the middle of the night...
In all honesty, I'm not exactly sure how I felt about this book. Nothing was bad about it, and nothing got on my nerves, but I just didn't really feel connected to any of the characters. I mean, yes, I liked them - the idea of Ben being cursed with an affinity for music was definitely interesting, and his struggle with his talent compared to the reactions of the people around him was filled with visceral desperation that really made you empathise with him. Meanwhile, Hazel was a massive bad ass for wanting to hunt monsters when they were children, and the fact that she actually managed to take out a few in the process was very awesome! But other than those aspects, the main two characters just felt a little flat for me. Loads happened with Hazel's character in the last hundred or so pages of the book, but for the first half something just seemed to be causing a disconnect. With the gaining of tension and pace in the last part of the book, I just felt as though I was missing things, and I kept having to go over and re-read them again and again, which isn't something that was necessarily wrong with the book, just something that didn't click with me.
My favourite character was most definitely Jack. The idea of having a faerie living as a human in their day-to-day life was a very interesting one, especially when you combine it with the fact that everyone knew what Jack was and didn't isolate him from their relationships. At the start of the novel, before the faeries started causing extra havoc in the town, Jack definitely seems to be one of the more popular guys at school, which was a big plus for the acceptance rates of the folks of Fairfold.
Similarly, Ben being an accepted, openly gay (but not overtly in your face) main character was an addition that I loved. Too often, when gay characters are written by straight people, it's as though they're jumping up and down waving to get attention for their sexuality, so that the authors get appreciated for putting in a variety of people. However, Holly Black's writing is nothing like this, making it a real breath of fresh air, and it proves that she can write characters genuinely without needing to use gimmicks to get respect and attention to her novels.
I also did enjoy the plot - the idea that Severin, the horned boy, had a sister who mourned her husband so extremely that she turned into Sorrow incarnate was a terrifying myth, that's going to send shivers down my spine every time I'm out in woodland areas. Sorrow's effect on people, such as them choking up dirt, was also really uniquely spooky, and I flew through the sections that she was involved in.
However, I'm not sure why, but I just didn't love this book. It all seemed a bit predictable - both of the couples got happily ever afters, the evil overlord ruler was slain and the monster was appeased and could live happily with them. It was a good, well written book, and I'm definitely going to go on to read more of Holly Black's writing, but it's not something that completely blew my mind and left me begging for more. I'm glad that 'The Darkest Part of the Forest' is a standalone, because - at the moment, at least - Holly has definitely done all she needs to do with this story, and I'm glad it's not being stretched out.
If you like books about faeries, but with a twist on the typical fairy tale structure, this is definitely the book for you. It's one of the best standalone novels I've read in quite a while, so that's also a plus if you're looking for something that you can start and wrap up rather quickly.