As a writer of fantasy, I struggle with creating a world in which the reader can eagerly suspend her disbelief. In The Darkest Park of the Forest, Holly Black has successfully created such a world. To the casual observer passing through town, Fairfold seems like just another small town with ordinary houses and stores. Very few people casually pass through Fairfold, however. Tourists visit to see for themselves the glass coffin. Sometimes the visitors never return home. Those inhabitants who live here know better than to anger the Folk that dwell in the forest.
“Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin. It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.”
When reading this book, I easily suspended my disbelief. Of course, the woods are home to the land of Faerie. Of course, the rest of the town is perfectly normal: small shops and modest homes. A town so small, the school holds all grades, K-12.
Growing up, Hazel and her brother, Ben, told stories to the boy in the coffin, had life-threatening adventures in the woods and hoped the boy would awaken someday. Hazel, now seventeen, visits the boy with the rest of the senior class, bringing not a charm to awaken the prince, but beer and I-pods. Drunken girls dance on top of the coffin. Still, the Folk and the inhabitants of Fairfold generally get along in an uneasy peace.
Hazel has a habit of kissing lots of boys while not caring for any of them. “Hazel kissed boys for many reasons…” but one reason was “…because she wasn’t sure how many kisses she had left.” When the boy in the glass coffin finally does awaken, Hazel wonders if a bargain she made with the Folk years before will now come due.
The Darkest Part of the Forest is not just an ordinary fantasy “page turner.” Black explores issues that face all teens: love, making good choices and figuring out whom one is. Hazel has many secrets. Her dysfunctional family is no small part of her life and has caused her to be selfish with her feelings, keeping them hidden. As a child, she imagined herself as a great knight who would some day free the boy in the coffin and save Fairfold from the monster in the woods. At the same time, she traverses normal teenage life with its temptations, grand emotions and life decisions that must be made.
This is a fantasy with complex characters and an equally complex dilemma. Holly Black’s world is so believable that you may be reluctant to leave Fairfold.
For myself, I will now go back to my work in progress and try to tackle my own world building challenge. And the next time I venture into the woods near my house, I will keep a wary eye out for the Folk.