3 out of 5 stars.
Holly Black has a very distinct storytelling style. She takes fairy stories or tropes that have, over the years, become Disney-fied, and dials them back to the old, European traditions. Her settings are contemporary, but the character of the faeries is much earlier. They are spiteful, childish, and sometimes downright murderous. They steal your cow, spoil your milk, and occasionally kidnap you baby and replace it with a creature of their own. The best you can hope for is them ignoring you. The worst is dyeing their headgear with your blood.
I did not love this book the way I did with her “Tithe” series. Those were the first novels of hers I had touched, so her dark, gritty and urban style was a complete, novel surprise (It also did not hurt that the second in that trilogy was a rewrite of my favourite fairy tale). This was not as fresh for me, but it still has that creepy, unworldly approach to faeries, and the realization that magic will have to come at a price. It is a really good way to rewrite faerie tales because it takes you back to a time when these types of creatures were feared. It makes them darker and more serious.
Hazel and her brother live in a town that has always been a little more touched by magic than others. Anyone foolish enough to traipse through the woods after dark is probably not coming back. A boy with horns and pointed ears sleeps in a coffin, and those brave or foolhardy enough can bargain with the faeries for their heart’s desire. The townspeople and the beings of the forest have lived with an uneasy balance for years, until the horned boy is awoken. Then, all hell breaks loose.
Black does such a good job intertwining a modern town with a fantastic forest. Kids go get drunk around, and make out on top of, the glass coffin. It is just accepted that some people in town have special, fairy-granted skills and the whole town works around a large percentage of their tourists just disappearing. She mashes contemporary and creepy fairies so well.
Another fantastic thing is her use of LGBTQ characters. They are there, but it is not the only important facet of their personalities. They are treated like all of the other characters: romance is mentioned and explored, but a huge deal isn’t made about their sexual preferences. They are presented like real people, not crude stereotypes, with fully formed personalities and interests.
This book, and other Holly Black, is a must-read for those that want their fantasy a little darker and weirder. I have not found another author with quite this style.