Read-along: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (week 4)

And now we come to the end of the second Wyrd and Wonder read-along, an ending that is less nail-bitingly abrupt than The Summer Tree’s conclusion, but no less fabulous for that. Let’s talk about what’s become of Hazel, Ben and Jack, of the horned prince, Severin, and of the wicked Alderking with Lisa’s (of Dear Geek Place) prompts to guide us.

And, yeah, SPOILERS – in case that wasn’t obvious!


Week 4: Chapter 19 through to the end

Let’s talk about the reveal of Ainsel’s identity! Did this surprise you?

Yes, and a little bit no. Yes, because this wasn’t how I expected the story to go and because Ainsel sounds very much like a faerie name.

No because Black had started to guide us towards this conclusion already when she revealed that Hazel had a separate night-time self. I loved the story from which the name Ainsel came – tricksy thinking that eludes the fae is always a pleasure to read.


Regarding Hazel’s plot to outwit the Alderking: do you think this makes sense now that we have the full picture?

It does, I think. Maybe the notes she left herself could have been a little less cryptic (give yourself a chance Hazel, sheesh), And maybe I don’t quite understand how she’s not completely doolally from years of so little sleep. And just maybe I didn’t quite get the rules of her night self’s existence: she’s Hazel-by-night until her head touches the pillow? Or until the dawn? And she’s pretending to go back to bed earlier so she can snatch some time as Hazel-by-night without the ALderking knowing … how exactly? Surely the Folk would be suspicious of her slipping off a little earlier? No? Am I being too picky? Or did I miss something? (I probably did miss something; I’ve not been especially bright this week).


Team Jack can rest easy! How did you feel about his decision to stay in Fairfold (and defy his Fae mother)?

Naturally I’m overjoyed that Jack is going to stay with Hazel because they have much smooching to do, and Hazel won’t have Ben’s company now so much. (Ben and Severin have much smooching to do too – hurray!) And I’m glad that Jack has chosen his human family (in the widest sense of the word) and stuck it to his mother because her affection for him is still very much in doubt. But there was something bittersweet in his choice too – he’s choosing Fairfold because it will not last as long as he will, and so, in a way, he’s choosing the heartache that comes with losing everything he’s loved. It underlines his other nature even as we cheer that he’s picked Team Human over Team Folk.

I was also intrigued by his line “I will return to you and learn how to be your son” which felt quite weighted. (Why does he have to learn how to be her son? What about her learning how to be his mother too?)


Ben gets the happy ending he always wanted, and Hazel becomes a true hero at last. Thoughts and feelings?

It makes so much sense that Ben would learn more about his musical gift with the Folk than in the mundane world – I don’t know why that didn’t occur to either him or Hazel before – so I was particularly pleased that his hand is mended and he will be able to play. It feels important that he will be able to be his full self, just as Hazel will be.

What did … surprise me? … upset me? … leave me uneasy … was how much worse Hazel and Ben’s parents now look. Sure, they’re older and a bit more responsible than they were when Hazel and Ben were growing up, but heck, they really weren’t good parents after all. And I defended them earlier! I’m not angry, but I am disappointed. I mean, I get it, they were young and still wanted to party, but I don’t feel like they were trying (at all). I’m pretty sure that if a parent is trying, then their kids don’t eat out of the dog’s bowl and don’t keep a vigil in the garden all night long without their absence from bed being noticed earlier than the next morning. Just saying.


(Bonus question) Overall, how do you feel about the ending, and about the pacing of these final chapters compared to the rest of the book?

I feel that the whole book ticked along at a good pace – there were never any long pauses for exposition, things were revealed as we needed to know them and the action built fairly steadily. I think the only ‘stutters’ I felt while reading were when we first met Sorrow at the school, which had a slightly different tone (although I enjoyed that tons); and when the Folk came for Hazel and the others and she blacked out and came to in the Alderking’s domain. That bit felt a little abrupt, but that could be because I haven’t been able to read in chunks like I usually do, but have been literally snatching a couple of sentences here and a couple there this week.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before (repeatedly!) that when I’ve finished a book I’m left with a sort of visual impression of its shape, colour and texture (occasionally accompanied by smells and tastes, but not often). When the ‘flow’ of a story has been bitty or jumpy, my mental image of it is messy. The impression that The Darkest Part of the Forest has left in my mind is pleasingly solid and smooth-edged however, so I feel like the pace must have been pretty consistent on the whole.

But of course, now I want to know what prompted this question and how everyone else feels, because … did I miss something?!




    • Aaah, gotcha. Yeah, in that respect it could definitely have been drawn out a bit more and wouldn’t have suffered for it.


  1. I love that we both went “wait what… what have we missed” about the ending. I thought it was very smooth too.

    I also feel like I missed something about Hazel’s day and night self. But I enjoyed it, so I don’t care that much.

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