Read-along: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (week 1)

This second Wyrd and Wonder read-along is just as exciting as the first! If you’re interested in taking part the schedule can be found here at Dear Geek Place, and each week’s prompts are being posted on Twitter (join the read-along community over there to get access).

 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is one of those books that I’ve picked up and put down so many times, always in favour of something more in keeping with my mood at the time. So imagine my delight in learning that it was to be a read-along title this year. Let’s dilly-dally no longer, but rush headlong into the town and woods of Fairfold and the tricksy world of the Folk … *squeeeeeee*

 

Week 1: Chapter 1 through Chapter 5

All is fair in Fairfold … or is it?

What are your thoughts on the way of life in this particular bubble? What do you make of the folk of Fairfold, both Fair and mundane?

Oh-ho, I’m loving this already! A town that sits half-in half-out of the world of faerie? Sign me up! Point the way!

I’m really enjoying the blend of the usual teenage troubles and the added complications of living alongside the Folk. Everyone goes to hang out, drink and listen to music down in the woods, sitting on and around a glass coffin containing a sleeping horned boy; and no-one so much as blinks when Tom Mullins breaks both legs, because he shouldn’t have stomped on the coffin like he did – he had it coming. I also love the juxtaposition of the kitschy things sold to the tourists in town, and the terrible things that happen to people, usually tourists, out in the woods. I love the rules – subject to change on a whim – and I love the superstitions that work until they don’t. It’s like reading a chocolate and cherry cake: rich and sweet, with these tart, juicy stabs of flavour. Mmmmmmmm.

Even more wonderful is the quick character sketches Black gives for some of the townspeople: Jack and Carter’s mother, fearless in the face of faerie; and Mr Schröder who owns the bit-of-everything store in town; Hazel and Ben’s parents (more on them in a moment) and Hazel and Ben’s peers: moony Robbie Delmonico and Franklin whose Dad makes moonshine; Molly Lipscomb, who’s so not talking to Hazel anymore, and Megan Rojas, Farifold’s solitary Goth.

I like, too, that the Folk were once just pranksters, but have gone darker with their games. Previously, they’d just lead a tourist astray for a night, or toy with the contents of people’s pockets, whereas now they’re leaving the odd corpse to be discovered. I’m curious as to the reason behind this and I hope it’s something we’ll find more out.

Considering we’re not even a hundred pages in yet, I feel like we’ve been given a pretty comprehensive tour of Fairfold and its inhabitants.

 

We need to talk about Hazel.

How much impending trouble do you think our ‘hero’ is about to get into? Also, how much of that trouble do you think she’s going to be responsible for?

So. Much. Trouble.

And I’ve got a nasty feeling she’s going to be responsible for most of it. We’re already discovering that she made an ill-advised deal with the Folk (seriously? When you’ve lived there all your life? I expected more of you Hazel … *shakes head in parody of parental disappointment*), so what else has she done that we don’t yet know about?

But then, there wouldn’t be much of a story if she’d been a good girl, I guess.

And I don’t see how the horned boy being in a coffin in the first place can have had anything to do with Hazel, so it’s really only his release that she appears to have been involved in so far. Which has got to be a good thing from someone’s point of view? (I don’t know who yet, but surely?) I’m actually more worried for Ben than for Hazel, I think. Her faerie pact was on his account after all, and he was blessed/cursed by the faerie woman when he was a baby – so his life is very much in other people’s hands, which doesn’t seem fair. And I’m always going to have a soft spot for gentle artistic types who’re just looking for love and stories.

 

Parenthood.

Speaking of Hazel, let’s talk about her and Ben’s parents. Are they simply misguided romantics, or do you think they’re Bad Parents?

I don’t feel like we know enough yet to go around calling them Bad Parents. But I’m not sure they’re taking the care and upbringing of two human beings quite as seriously as some other parents would. I wondered a little at their Mom, who’s lived in Fairfold her whole life, casually offering to draw the faerie woman’s picture when it might have been better to just smile and nod and say something mundane about the weather.

Artistic types get a bad rap in stories, don’t they? I mean, Hazel and Ben’s parents meet at art school, graduate, get pregnant, then get married so they can live rent-free in Fairfold (via one of Dad’s relatives); they have friends over and stay up late and let the kids roam free, but should we condemn them for these things? What makes this the wrong way to bring up children? Ben and Hazel have both achieved their teenage years and appear to be fairly well-adjusted. Their Mom is painting landscapes that get sold to tourists and their Dad is an illustrator of picture books, so it’s not like they’re not hard-working. My only real worry is that they allowed Hazel and Ben to go and live in Philadelphia for two years (when they were young than sixteen, although how much younger isn’t clear), and we don’t yet know the details around that.

So the short answer is that I’m not inclined to judge their parents too harshly. Yet.

 

What’s everyone else thinking of The Darkest Part of the Forest so far?

 

9 comments

  1. You make a great point about Hazel and Ben’s parents, and I do think that there wouldn’t be anything necessarily wrong with their parenting style – if they didn’t live in a town that rubs shoulders with the land of faeries. Is it smart/considerate to let your children run wild and get ideas about being heroes when there are dangerous creatures in the woods and tricksy Folk turning up wherever they please? Probably not…?

    But that brings us back around to the ‘double consciousness’ that Hazel mentions, and I’m sure we’ll come back to that later, heh… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeeaahhh, maybe a little more care needed because of where they live, as you say. 🤣

      And I love the “double consciousness” idea – I hope Black’s not done with that yet.

      Like

  2. I also felt like Black did a really good job of setting up the world of the town and the people in it efficiently. We are told a lot but we are also shown a lot to reinforce it. I also like the different sides of Hazel we got. It also kind of feels like Hazel might be paying the price for Ben not pursuing his musical stuff?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are much more forgiving than me at this stage haha! But I absolutely agree that it’s incredible that in so few chapters Holly Black has already painted quite a vivid picture of Fairfold and its balanced existence.

    Liked by 1 person

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