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Following good stories wherever they lead

Love and Lies: The Darkest Part of the Forest

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A sister and brother discover a sleeping Prince in a Forest; a town is blessed by faeries; and the darker sides of magic will test the limits of love and bravery.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 mugs

If you’re in the mood for: Faery magic and sibling love in the charged half-light of teenagedom, in a delicate world enchantingly rendered by a well-honed storytelling voice.

Hazel and Ben have always loved the sleeping Prince in the forest. Silent and beautiful, with twin horns curling behind his temples, he seemed to symbolize the magic of Fairfold, the magic of possibility. Growing up, they told each other stories of how one day, he would awake, and then their real adventures would begin.

But he never did awake, no matter what anyone tried.

And then Ben stopped hunting together with Hazel in the forest, and the sour truths of magic gradually overwhelmed the sweet. Dreams and wishes twisted, and the best intentions turned to grief. And now, it seems — too soon — a bargain that was made is coming due.

The people of Fairfold have always shared an uneasy truce with the Folk. They have believed themselves protected — or at least not actively persecuted — by right of their history and lore. Tourists who come to the idyllic town may fall prey to the Folk; they may be carried off in the night’s wild hunt, or dragged beneath cold, still waters. But the locals know better. They keep their talismans close, and observe the changes of the moon. And that has always been enough…more or less.

Except now, it isn’t. Now, milk is curdling in neighborhood houses, and children are going missing.

And the Prince is no longer sleeping in his glass coffin.

This is a wonderful faery story on many levels — bewitching, glittering, barbed and dangerous — that operates best in the glow of Hazel and Ben’s shared world. Brother and sister, they seem as close as can be, but both use their sibling bond to hide more painful secrets. To have not one, but two practiced liars at work creates a fascinating dynamic, which plays out perfectly in their relationship.

Hazel herself presents as refreshingly ordinary; she has no faery curses or gifts, and her only abilities are self-taught and hard-won. She’s haunted by more than a few defining mistakes, and continues to chase a few more — she’s far from oblivious to her own faults. But Hazel understands the necessity of being brave, and the difference between bravery and fearlessness. Which is part of what makes her a heroine.

Ben could more easily slip out of notice, if you weren’t paying attention. But he has his own challenges — more classically complicated by a faery curse — and his fears are dauntingly deep. He has a lot to lose, most of all himself, and making the wrong decision could cost him both past and future.

Then there’s Jack — the changeling boy adopted by the family he was sent to deceive. Trapped in a dance of pretending that fools no one, always on the outskirts, surreptitiously watched. Jack’s faery mother wants him back. But just because he was born a faery doesn’t mean that’s all he is anymore.

It all revolves around the Prince, object of fear and desire. The ethereally beautiful horned boy has been a fixture of Fairfold’s scenery as long as anyone can remember. Endlessly sleeping, perfectly still, he has become a shrine to countless secrets and desires, teenaged longings and confusions played out over and over in his forest glen.

When he awakes — what then? What does he want, and who will he hurt to get it?

When the Prince meets the heroes, the story gets a lot more tangled, and wonderfully so. The pacing is woven tight, and the descriptions are often delicately wrought, like bright-edged scenes of glass — capturing perfectly the warm wild gusts of a summer’s evening, bike tires hissing along old pavement under a spread of trees turned strange and forbidding in the dusk.

Reading this recaptures the secret lights of teenagedom: those forbidden moments of discovery, the first rush into the unknown, the fey hush of the middle of the night, when no adults stir and the world turns strange in the lonely silence. It’s a joy to discover and a delight to experience, and I recommend it simply and wholeheartedly. If you’ve never read a faery story, no matter what age, try this one. It will reward you in magic.

Want a second opinion? See here and here.

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2015 by in Fantasy, YA.

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