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Readers Advisory: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18 hardbound, ISBN-10 0316213071, January 2015

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for. Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. 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 Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking. Until one day, he does…

Black is back with a dark and eerie fairy tale reminiscent of her early works Tithe and Valiant but shining with a definite patina of artistic maturity. She’s moved past simply pointing out that the faerie world is full of darkness, backstabbing, and shady deals and gone on to explore what that means for humans who live in proximity to magical, amoral creatures. A great deal of the plot and Hazel’s characterization focus on the fallout from making deals with otherworldly beings. In that respect, it reminded me of the show Supernatural–you think you’re prepared to pay the price of your deal, but you always find out you didn’t fully understand the promise you made, and the human always gets the short end of the stick. Anyway, mystery, romance, powerful writing, and a dramatic declaration of love near the end all roll into another winner from Black. Although it’s a standalone, Black leaves plenty of room for future stories in the same setting, and I hope she will write a few.

Recommend to: Fans of fantasy and of the author

To buy or not to buy: A general purchase

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