The Darkest Part of the Forest

Awright, so I can’t remember where I saw this book and what compelled me to read it in the first place… I think I just liked the cover to be honest.  And I liked the blurb on the back talking about kids having an absolute sense of justice.  That blurb was intriguing and gave me… a completely different impression of what the book would be like.  Or about, really.

I went into this book expecting it to actually be about kids (the characters are more teens than kids), and thinking it was gonna be about kids’ cruel, absolute sense of justice.  IE, viewing the world in total black and white.  Here’s the blurb in full:

“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.”

So I thought this was going to be a more morally ambiguous book where kids get violent thinking their doing the right thing but their black and white view of the world ultimately just turns them into monsters themselves (figuratively).  I mean, come on, “CRUEL, absolute justice.”  “kill a monster and feel proud of themselves.”  That’s some ominous shit right there.  There’s something nefarious, something not right about that.

Turns out the book isn’t quite about that at all.  Actually, if I remember right, turns out that blurb is really just an extract verbatim from the novel and is actually the main character’s musings on her younger years.

That the little blurb didn’t at all capture the tone or meaning of the book was a small disappointment but ultimately didn’t matter too much when I began reading the book, because the actual concept of the book is pretty damn cool.  There’s a small town near a forest, and strange things happen in said city; namely, because the forest it’s near is home to scores of Fae.  This takes place in the “real world”, so the concept is that only the residents of this town know about the Fae, and even then some don’t believe they actually exist.  The town survives off of tourism, the main sight being a glass, unbreakable coffin  not too far in the woods with a horned boy sleeping inside, dressed in regal prince clothes.  The highschool kids of that town often party in that clearing of the woods, and it’s not uncommon for people to dance on the coffin, or occasionally even try to break it open (though that usually leads to bad things happening).  The story goes that the boy in coffin has been sleeping there for over a hundred years or something, and nobody is quite sure who he is or how he got there.

The opening is really cool because it shows a lot of really well-thought out characters and social dynamics.  And it’s just a great concept that this human town is borderline enmeshed with the Fae world, yet the highschool kids still act so… highschoolish, having parties at the coffin and whatnot.  The beginning really showed a lot of potential for the rest of the book.  And honestly I thought the writing was pretty good.  It was enjoyable, it flowed, it felt natural.

As the story goes on though, 90% of the opening charm fades away.  The inciting incident of the story is when one morning news spreads that the glass coffin has been smashed open, the horned boy is missing.  Once he’s free from the coffin, shit starts getting weird.  The Alderking, the Fae who rules that part of the forest, wants to capture the horned boy for reasons unknown.  Things happen, the protag and her brother get entwined in the mystery.  Basically once the inciting incident hits, the book’s appeal starts to fade away, slowly at first, and then faster.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll let a few things loose.  after the horned boy breaks free, he finds the protag and threatens her to help him or else.  Then he kisses her because “that’s what she wants” (her and her brother have fantasized about boning the horned boy since the dawn of time)

oh yeah, the brother is 100% gay which I thought was an awesome part of this book because it doesn’t treat him as a weird character for being gay, it treats him as a totally normal human and there’s only one point in his past where his sexuality was a burden on him but it doesn’t become the main focus of the novel.  I’m a huge advocate for including queer people as normal, everyday human characters because that’s exactly what queer people are – normal, everyday people.  There is definitely a need for and room for literature which focuses on the struggles of having a gender and sexual identity different from cis and straight, but there is just as equally a need to include characters of gender and sexual identities different from cis and straight in mainstream fiction as regular characters.  Both are necessary.  When their struggle is the focus of the novel, that’s great for people who don’t suffer their problems understanding what they’re going through and empathizing.  When their struggle is not the main focus and they are shown as normal characters coexisting with cis straight people, that’s great for normalizing them as people, and putting them on equal footing as cis straight.

Anyways, I mention him kissing her because this book devolves into a really badly written, sappy romance.  And this is where the book starts to go bad.  As it continues on, that really cool opening of all the highschoolers partying on the casket?  Turns out all that info wasn’t actually important at all, it was just setting up the normal (okay, mildly important, but there are so many ways it could have set up the normal, so why through THAT specific scene?)  All the characters mentioned and described are practically dropped from the face of the earth.  A few of them return later on for a moment and then the book realizes it’s making too much use of the social dynamics it set up in the beginning and quickly swipes them all from existence again.  Instead, the book becomes about four characters – Protag (Hazel?), her brother (Ben or something?), Jack (a changeling), and the horned boy (some weird name), and about their super melodramatic romance that ends in a contrived, happy pairing off at the end.  The mystery of the novel is okay but the book forcefeeds you the details and finer points of the mystery to make sure you know everything that happened and realize how oh-so clever the author was with that one.

This book has a lot of jumping from present to past which, actually, I didn’t mind, because while it interrupted the plot of the present quite a bit, the past segments were interesting themselves and did tie into the present-day characters and who they are.

Anyways, when I read this book, I really enjoyed it, started to lose interest about halfway through, and at the 3/4 mark I was ready to call it quits but, out of respect to the beginning of the novel (plus it’s not super long), I decided to stick it out to the end to see if it redeemed itself.

It didn’t.  At least, not for me.  For other people it might, it wasn’t a terrible ending, but I don’t think it was all too satisfying either.  The main mystery started to feel forced and there was an awkward imbalance between the mystery and the author trying to force feelings down our throats.  The dialogue just went out the window in quality and got overdramatic.  The plot was…. okay.  The execution of said plot was a little less okay but was ultimately drowned out by the terrible dialogue and characterizations that took over in the latter half of the novel.  The very very very very ending scene, actually, in theory, should have been satisfying, because it came full circle to the beginning, but the emotional arc of the novel was just garbled so much in that last half that that theoretical satisfaction was lost on me.

The social dynamic between the town and the Fae is really imaginative and well-thought out, but maybe a little underutilized because the characters in the town turned into flat, unimportant people who got blown out of the plot and existence at the slightest draft.

Anyways, I wouldn’t recommend this as a great book.  I think this is more YA and if you enjoy modern twists on fairytales and YA, I’d say it’s definitely a book worth looking into.  Reading the beginning quarter and dropping it is a little worth it, actually, just because that whole beginning premise is so cool.  Other than that, if I were to rate it, I’d probably give it 2.5/5 stars.

As always, Thanks for reading 🙂

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