The Darkest Part of the Forest

darkest partThe Darkest Part of the Forest
By Holly Black
2015

Since I really enjoyed The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I started paying more attention to Holly Black. This book didn’t hit me quite the same way, but it is still a fun read. There’s something really pleasing about her heroines in both books: they know what they want and they go after it. Even when they flounder about a bit, there’s a certainty to them that I like.

Hazel, the main character here, occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) makes idiotic decisions, but she does so with a purpose. It’s always understandable and I’m often left wondering if maybe she’s right. And when she’s wrong, she acknowledges it, which is another rare and attractive quality. I didn’t feel much of a connection with Hazel (it’s possible I’m aging out of YA, at least a little bit), but I liked her.

The book also provides an interesting look at how easily some pretty horrific things can be normalized such that both the characters in the book and the reader reading the book don’t think too much about it… until someone points out that, wait, no, what you had been accepting for so long is actually not acceptable.

Only the most obvious example of this is how cruel, tricky and magical the fae are, but also how accepted they are in the town of Fairfold. They’re a dangerous and disturbing part of life in this town. People just carry on… until they can’t anymore.

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories

poisoneatersThe Poison Eaters and Other Stories
by Holly Black
2010

I checked this book out of the library less because I actually wanted to read it and more because I was testing out the ability to check out kindle books. (It works! I love it! I can get books when the library is closed, when it is snowing out, and without getting dressed for the day.)

It also wound up being an interesting book of short stories. This is clearly the author experimenting with different characters and plot points. Some of them work better than others, but they’re all quite interesting. It makes me think that I need to read more of her Black’s books, because I really do think these stories were testing grounds for her books, and I want to see what she made of the more successful stories.

I thought it was pretty funny that one short story, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is set in the same universe as the author’s book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but has an entirely different set of characters and plot arc. There’s a single throw-away line in the book that references the events of the short story. I really liked both the book and the short story, but I am left wondering: who does the author think is the coldest girl in Coldtown?

I’m virtually sure that The Land of Heart’s Desire is set in the same universe as Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series, using characters that I would recognize if I had read those books. And it probably would have made more sense if I had recognized them and thus knew their various backstories. I might need to go ahead and read at least one of those books to see.

I liked the short stories, The Night Market and The Coat of Stars, both of which are complete in and of themselves in a way that most of the other stories in this compilation are not. The rest tend to be character studies (Going Ironside) or plot summaries (The Dog King and The Poison Eaters) or single interludes from larger universes (Virgin). So while they’re interesting, they don’t really stand on their own. I enjoyed them, but I don’t necessarily recommend them.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

About this time last year, Anna reviewed a series of YA fantasy books by Holly Black that started out with White Cat. We both finished that trilogy this year, and really enjoyed them. So imagine how happy I was to see that Black released a new book this fall! It’s a YA book about a teenage girl who gets swept up into a whole adventure with vampires. Yes, another one of those. But this one is awesome, and rather than try to explain why by describing the plot, I’m going to list just a few of the ways this book is better than Twilight:

1) First and foremost, the main character, Tana, is the totally kickass opposite of Bella Swan. She takes care of herself and others and doesn’t particularly need saving. And it’s not that she’s a superhero–she’s terrified most of the time–but she sees things that need doing, so she just does them.

2) There is a bit of romance, which I like in my books, but it not the main point of the story. Also, it isn’t a love triangle. Why do books and movies so often involve love triangles, when my experience is that they are just not that common in real life?

3) In this book, the public is aware of vampires, because although the old vampires had managed to keep themselves secret for years, they eventually lost control and it all came out and vampires ended up being celebrities. You know that if vampires were real they would be all over YouTube and People.

4) Being a vampire isn’t particularly romanticized here. There are characters that do glamorize it, but it’s actually presented a lot like fame: it might seem exciting, but the reality is not that much fun. The main character spends most of her time trying very hard to not become a vampire, which I found refreshing.

So, overall, a little gory, but very entertaining and way way way better than a lot of vampire stuff out there.

Kinsey’s (Approximately) Three Word Review: A fun, dark ride.

You might also like: Sunshine by Robin McKinley, which Anna already told you to read.

Red Glove and Black Heart

By Holly Black

I previously reviewed the first in this trilogy, White Cat, which I absolutely loved. I can’t really review these subsequent books, though, because it is the kind of series where even reading the back blurb of each book gives away brilliant twist endings from the previous book. I can’t just not review them, though, because they are awesome! I wanted another chance to tell everyone to go out and read the whole series. I swear you’ll just devour all three in one lost weekend of literary debauchery!

Book Cover: Red GloveAnyway, without any spoilers for any of the books, Red Glove really brought home to me what I love so much about these books: they are noir mysteries, full of old school gangsters and con men and corrupt cops, but also noir-lite, set in high school, or rather an up-scale preparatory school. Our protagonist is classic teen boy, often angry and with poor decision-making skills, but is also a very amusing and often clever smart-ass.

Red Glove spends more time in the school itself than White Cat, which I appreciated. I really love world-building and just the mundane details of the school life were fascinating to me (I especially loved the school scenes in Harry Potter, too).

Book Cover: Black HeartEach book, too, gets a little wider in scope. White Cat deals with the protagonist’s direct family, while Red Glove extends more into the criminal world surrounding the family (I swear, these are all elements introduced right off the bat, and not spoilers). Black Heart goes even further and deals with the politics and government of the world. Unfortunately, I believe that this series has been planned as a trilogy with no subsequent books anticipated, though I would be a happy reader if Holly Black decided to revisit it.

—Anna

Teeth

Edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Book Cover: TeethI picked up this book as an impulse loan at the library when the title typeface caught my eye. (Design nerd moment: I really like how they were able to make the title actually look like teeth without being totally cheesy about it – very elegant, especially coupled with the lack of teeth in the image) I also had already heard of the book because one of my favorite blog writers, Genevieve Valentine, wrote one of the stories in the collection, and posted that story online. It was awesome, so I figured I wouldn’t mind reading it again and see if the other stories were of the same caliber.

Of course, some were and some weren’t. Well, Valentine’s was still the best, but there were others I really liked, too. In fact, Valentine’s story was first in the collection, and then the second story, All Smiles by Steve Berman, dealt with a vampire myth from a more unusual, non-European culture, as well, so I was pretty pleased. (Actually, both these first two stories are available in a preview of the book here.)

The problem with this type of anthology is that lots of people, me included, like to read about vampires, so it makes sense to collect stories about them. Good vampire stories, though, often use vampirism as a surprise twist in the story, so you see the problem. Just being included in this type of anthology spoils a lot of the stories, so there were certainly several that I think I would have liked a lot more if I hadn’t just been reading them waiting for the vampires to show up.

A not-so-brief gripe to close out this review: the book cover promises contributions from Cassandra Clare & Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, and more. Now, I’m a recent fan of Holly Black, and I really enjoyed her story here, co-written with Cassandra Clare; and I’m starting to think Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely was a fluke because I haven’t enjoyed any of her other writing nearly as much; but my real gripe is with Neil Gaiman. I love his Sandman graphic novels and every full-length novel he has ever written. I consider myself a huge fan of his. However, his short stories are crap. So, I knew not to actually consider his name on the cover to be any sort of selling point, but he must have disappointed legions of not-already-disappointed fans with his short and hasty-seeming poem that reads more like a pop song. Weak sauce, Gaiman, weak sauce.

—Anna

White Cat

By Holly Black

Book Cover: White CatThis Christmas, I’m spending the holiday with Tom’s family in Arizona, so I grabbed White Cat off of my to-read shelf on my way out the door to the airport. We had managed to get a nonstop, five-hour flight to Phoenix, and I had intended to take a nice long nap through most of it. Instead, I did nothing but read this book, and finished all but the last 50 pages by the time we landed, which I promptly finished that night.

Author Holly Black builds a very interesting world with crime families that deal in illegal magic that can control or kill others with just a touch of the hand.* Our protagonist (I don’t quite want to call him a hero) is introduced to us as the youngest son of a somewhat minor crime family and the only member without a magical ability, so he struggles to remain equal to the other members through mundane cons.

The brilliant thing about the book is that the whole thing is a string of cons, making up one giant one, and the reader is along for the ride. It is one of those rare narratives where each twist surprised me as it came up, but also made absolute sense in retrospect.

One of the praise blurbs on the inside cover of the book describes it as “part X-Men and part Sopranos,” and for some reason I find that really kind of off-putting, even though I enjoyed both of those. However, after having finished the book, I had to agree that it is a pretty good description, but instead of the amalgam of the kind of crappy parts of both, which is what I immediately feared, it takes the best of both and makes something even better.

The sequel, Red Glove, is already out, and I’m going to track that down as soon as I get home (although, I also now need a book for my flight home again), and then the third book of the trilogy, Black Heart, is due in April 2013.

Anyway, happy holidays to you all, and I hope you get lots of good books for presents!

—Anna

*Very minor spoiler and pet peeve: since a bare touch of a hand can be so dangerous, everyone is this world wears gloves, which I found vaguely interesting until they put in details like “licking the grease from the French fries off of the gloves” that both makes it so much more realistic, and somehow just really grosses the hell out of me.