I have had “read something by Holly Black” on my TBR for years. I have a huge soft spot for fairies in fantasy and that seems to be her sweet spot. I actually have had The Cruel Prince on my shelf since it was published, but I get weird about trilogies and have kinda been waiting so I can binge the whole thing at one time. Anyways, the fact is that I was, therefore, psyched to vote for this book as my long-distance book club choice for this month.
There’s a monster in our wood
She’ll get you if you’re not good
Drag you under leaves and sticks
Punish you for all your tricks
A nest of hair and gnawed bone
You are never, ever coming…home.
Hazel and her older brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where the Folk and humans live side-by-side. When one day the horned boy that has been asleep in a glass tomb in the woods near their town for generations is broken out and awoken, everything in Fairfold gets even more magical. Ben has to face down his fear of his own gifts, Hazel must become the knight she once dreamed of being, and both learn to be brave in love.
Well, this was the first book in a long time that I have picked up and finished in one day. It was a super-fast story, and such a great adventure. I love the real world and fairy world side-by-side setting. It’s definitely one of my favorite fantasy settings. And human-fae love stories, which we got a couple of here, are the best (the things my personal dreams are made of, to be honest). Both Ben and Hazel get really sweetly fulfilling romances throughout this novel. To be fair, neither are particularly deep (as this is more of a “for fun” than “for depth” novel – written with typical fairy-tale cadence and development), but they were cute and fit the story and developed over the length of the novel in a way that felt well-paced and, by the end, my heart was filled with the happy fuzzies when they both worked out. I also enjoyed the relationship between Ben and Hazel themselves, as it felt pretty realistic – each of them feeling jealous/protective of the other in different ways and for different reasons – but in the end it meant that they kept a lot of secrets from each other that perhaps cause more harm than they thought they were saving the other. The focus on guilt from each is definitely something that I recognize in a more general sense as well, especially in this case where they spent much of their childhoods fending for themselves (due to sub-optimal parenting), which forced them both into those protective perspectives earlier than they should ever have felt that pressure. Plus, I did like the overall gender-role reversal of the two – it is perhaps less unique for me in the genre now than it would have been if I had read this when it was originally published – but I’ll never say no to a soft-hearted, romantic boy and a scrappy, strong female.
As far as the plot, I overall liked it. Like I said, this was a quick read, with fantastic page-turning pacing from start to finish. There were a few twists that I thought were well done, in particular, the true nature of the monster at the heart of the forest). And the references to traditional fairy tales, from a variety of cultures, was great. I always enjoy trying to spot the “loopholes” in deals with fae, since their inability to lie/abiding by the strict letter of the deal is a very popular point in most fairy tales, and this story was no exception. I had to reread the section about Hazel’s deal (once it comes to light how it’s being paid) and Ben’s realization about the clues she’s been leaving herself, because I was confused the first time. But to be fair, there’s a chance that by then I was reading too fast for my own good, as far as comprehension, and less because it was written unclearly or wasn’t as shocking as one might hope for. However, it definitely wasn’t quite as understandable as I would have wanted.
This was what great YA escapist-enchantment fantasy is made of. It was thrilling and fast and cheesy and a bit twisty, without ever crossing a line into too dark or sappy. (In fact, I do think it’s sold as a more darkly atmospheric book than it actually was – like the first season of a YA fantasy show, that is dark but still YA and light in many ways, but hasn’t reached the real sinister intensity of later seasons.) Anyways, it was still, for me, an exciting first foray into Black’s work and, knowing what I’ve heard about her The Folk of the Air series being a bit more intense, has got me primed for and highly anticipating starting that sooner rather than later.