I bought this when it was on sale a while back, right around the time that I had finished The Folk of the Air trilogy. Published in 2015, it kind of reads as a "proto-CRUEL PRINCE" with a heroine that's a lot like Jude and a hero who seems a bit like a nicer version of Cardan. It's a little different, though; it's written in third person, with a tone that makes it feel like it's for a younger audience. There are two romances, instead of just one main couple, and one of them is LGBT+ (M/M). I think the message is also different-- CRUEL PRINCE was primarily about love and power, and how those two things can come into conflict when pride enters the mix, but THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is a story about growing up and living your dreams.
Ben and Hazel are siblings who live with their hands-off parents in a town called Fairfold that borders the lands of the fae. Its claim to fame is a fae boy who sleeps in a glass coffin. Tourists come to marvel at the supernatural goings-on and once in a while they go missing-- not that the townsfolk care. As long as none of their own get spirited away, they couldn't care less.
But soon things start to go wrong in Fairfold in a very real way. Townies start to become affected by various curses and some of them wind up dead. Ben and Hazel used to play at slaying monsters in the woods, but coming face to face with real monsters is a very different matter entirely. Especially when the glass casket shatters and the fae boy comes to life, and it becomes clear that he has some powerful and dangerous ties to the faerie court at their boarders that could mean grave danger for Ben and Hazel.
This story is very slow to start. It's well written and engaging and I loved the strong female heroine (although Jude was better). The romances were also decent, though they lacked passion until the end. If this was intended for a younger audience, that makes sense. We start to get some more decent scenes of romance as the story winds to a close, though. And honestly, both couples were okay. I liked some of the cameos from the Folk of the Air series, like Grimsen, Heartsworn, and Heartseeker. I'm curious how the timeline plays out, though-- it kind of seems like maybe this book takes place in the future of the Folk timeline, since it's mentioned that the Alderking stole Grimsen from court.
I can see why people didn't like this book but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The slow (maybe too slow) build-up, the scenes of derring-do, and the positive messages about finding your own sense of agency even if it means defying others were all pretty appealing. There's also diversity, with one of the main characters being biracial (iirc), and two characters coded as gay and bisexual. It all happens very naturally and nobody raises any eyebrows at it, and their sexuality isn't substituted for their character, which all made me very happy. Anyone who needs something to tide them over until Holly Black writes her Next Big Thing will probably really enjoy this, especially if they liked Folk of the Air.
3.5 out of 5 stars