Read-along: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (week 3)

The monster from the heart of the woods is on the prowl, but may not quite be the monster everyone first thought. Meanwhile, Hazel, Ben and Jack are so tangled up with the Folk they may never break free. Assuming they’d want to, of course. This week’s Wyrd and Wonder reading has revealed some secrets, but many puzzles still remain. So, as I’m asking the questions this week, let’s jump straight in …

 

And I’ve been forgetting to say it, but SPOILERS all the way!

 

Week 3: Chapters 12 through 18

Our knight and her company have encountered the monster from the heart of the woods and learnt her story. Thoughts? Feelings?

Well, firstly, I found it terrifying when we first met Sorrow at the school! I’m merrily reading this story of teenage siblings with secret crushes, then wooooo, a scary tree creature goes full horror-movie on us! (OK, I know we’ve had plenty of signposts pointing out the darker nature of the Folk, so I should’ve been prepared for further creepy shenanigans, but this section still caught me off guard somehow and I got real chills reading it. Also, is anyone else getting big Guillermo del Toro vibes here?).

But I also can’t help but feel enormous sympathy for the “monster”. She falls in love with the human boy, Johannes, and folds herself into a mundane life for him. He breaks the geas under which they were permitted to marry by the Alderking, making her cry three times (all for things that sound very boring and human and against a faerie’s nature, and don’t make him look good at all), and he is then killed by her brother, at the command of her father. She grieves (dramatically), but with such sincerity that the very “rocks and trees” around her are moved to tears and her sorrow transforms eventually her into the “monster”.

I feel that Sorrow/Sorrel shows a different side to the Folk too – we’ve seen them torment and toy with humanity, but they can fall in love too. And Sorrel’s response to the death of her mortal husband is poignant. It’s almost as if the Folk are everything we are, but exaggerated. Everything is heightened, every emotion and impulse – their mischief, their love, their anger, their grief.

 

“You always knew this was all real, didn’t you? … How can you stand it?” Let’s talk some more about the “double consciousness” of the people of Fairfold.

This came into pretty sharp relief towards the end of the school horror episode when the emergency people look confused and mention a gas leak in response to Leonie’s shout of “A monster!”, and then a curfew is announced due to “inclement weather”. And again when the adults meet at Jack and Carter’s house to talk about returning Jack to the Folk (more on this in a moment).

This aspect of the story is possible the one I’m having the hardest time grasping and Molly’s question underlined it for me. At first, I was happy to go with the rough idea that kids in Fairfold know that faeries exist, teenagers continue to suspect it, and the adults only confront it as fact when they absolutely have to, but otherwise live in denial. Then I worked the whole tourist industry into that – people come because they’ve heard we’ve got faeries, ha ha, let’s not dissuade them – and finished it off with an X-Files-ish glaze. But Molly’s question suggests she didn’t know for sure. While the adults meeting at the Gordon’s house are absolutely sure. And while I like this, and I find it intriguing, it’s also irritating me. You either know, or you don’t, people! Stop messing about! This is what gets people killed!

 

We need to talk about Jack, like, right now! How do you feel about his position in Fairfold? Any predictions on how you think his story might wrap up? (Do you think it’s possible for Jack to have a happy ending?)

Poor Jack! Imagine his position, not really faeries because he didn’t grow up that way, but according to the people he’s grown up with, not really human either. To make him a scapegoat and propose removing him from the only home he’s known, back to a faerie family that, for all anyone knows, doesn’t even want him. I hate this kind of small-town-turns-on-the-odd-one kind of thing, it’s too prevalent IRL as it is and a reminder of how shitty the human race can be. Which is surely the point? Because we’ve seen the Folk being dark and tricksy, but turn the spotlight on the human characters, and are they really any better? I feel like this just underlines how much humanity and faerie have in common – two sides of the same coin etc etc.

From Jack’s point of view there is an added torment: the craving he feels for the revel and his inability to resist it. Because however mundane his upbringing, he is still magical too. I love what Black has done here. We’ve been shown the dangers of living alongside the Folk; we’ve been shown how vicious humans can be in turn; and then she gives us a character stuck in the middle of the two – unable to be totally one thing or the other. Because of Jack, we can’t see the Folk as wholly bad, but I do worry that he won’t get his happy ending. I don’t have the imagination to picture a scenario where both sides of his self can be nurtured.

 

Be careful what you wish for!

Hazel is a knight, just as a she always dreamed. And it looks like Ben’s dream might also be coming true regarding a certain pretty prince. Let’s talk about wish fulfilment and the Folk.

(Excuse me, but I may need to crow for a moment: I think Severin loves Ben! I think Severin loves Ben!) Now, with that off my chest, I’m every kind of curious about Hazel’s split personality. I love that I didn’t see this coming at all, and that this is weirdly far more sinister than Hazel just dropping down dead one day. She is living a second half-life, but has no idea what kind of person she’s being in that life – how frigging cool is that? Tricksy faeries!

And I am sooo here for a Ben and Severin smooshing. From way back at the beginning when we first learned that Ben “wanted to be in love, [and] was all too willing to give away his still-beating heart” he’s been on my will-die-to-protect list (because possibly the only thing other than all animals everywhere to stir up any kind of protective instinct in me is young lovelorn boys *shrug*). So the boyfriend for Ben was going to have to be pretty special, and I think a faerie prince who’s been asleep for years on end fits that bill rather nicely.

However …

I am extremely worried for our boy Ben. Because what if I’m wrong? Or what if Severin and Ben are doomed to follow a similar trajectory to Sorrel and Johannes? Or, what if a real Ben-Severin romance doesn’t look anything like the dream Ben-Severin romance?

Yeah, this wasn’t about wish fulfilment at all. And now I’m pretty much out of words.

 

P.S.

I’m going to have to take back my suspicions about either Ben or Jack being responsible for Heartsworn’s disappearance, aren’t I? I feel like if it was one of them they’d have confessed by now, especially now that most of the secrets are out. I don’t know whether to start side-eying Ben and Hazel’s mother, or just wait impatiently for it to be revealed! Ha! I guess I’ll do both.

 

9 comments

  1. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thrown by the change of pace with the school attack. Possibly because of the headspace I was in it jolted me out of the story more than make me feel stuck into it, but I do love Sorrel now that we’ve met her. Honestly, all these characters just need a hug. Problem solved!

    Liked by 1 person

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