Book Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
REVIEWED BY: CHELSEA
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Pub Date: 01/30/18
Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
“Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”
You know those Disney princess fairytales, the ones where the damsel in distress is saved by Prince Charming and they get married and live happily ever after? Yeah, this isn’t that story. Think of the old school Brother’s Grimm fairytales, and then imagine something even darker and you’ll have a clear picture of what this book holds for you. That’s not a criticism; one of the surest ways to get me to commit to reading a book is to tell me it’s an old school fairytale. I am a hardcore sucker for these wicked little snippets into an alternate world, and this debut felt like it was written by a seasoned pro with all the bells and whistles you could ask for.
When Alice was born, her eyes were black from end to end, and the midwife didn’t stay long enough to wash her.
We’re dropped into the story about midway; the first few chapters are meant to give us some background on Alice, her mother Ella, and her grandmother Althea Prosperine, who became famous by writing a book of fairytales. This book was titled Tales From The Hinterland and it contained a total of twelve brief stories. The cool part about The Hazel Wood is that we get to read a couple of these first hand within the story (Three Times Alice and The Door That Wasn’t There), while also getting brief snippets from most of the rest of them toward the end. This aspect was so unique and compelling that I felt a little breathless at the end. I wanted every story verbatim! I feel like, if the author so chose, she could write Tales From The Hinterland, binding and fully fleshing out all twelve stories in a volume to sell as a companion novel and we the people would EAT. IT. UP.
Seriously, please please pretty please?
So Alice remembers being kidnapped at the age of six by a strange man with red hair claiming to take her to visit her recluse of a grandmother, but she was never harmed and never laid eyes on Althea. Strange things begin to happen, such as Alice spotting the mysterious redheaded man a decade after her last sighting of him, her mother and herself receiving a letter stating Althea has passed away, and finally, Ella disappearing under very strange circumstances. Alice has no one to turn to other than a recently made acquaintance named Ellery Finch, who is a mega super borderline stalker fan of Althea’s work. His money and affluent nature allow them to forge a shaky bond and they decide to set off on a journey to do the very thing Alice’s mother warned her not to do-visit the Hazel Wood. <—Name of Althea Prosperine’s vast estate in upstate New York
I hated needing something from someone when I had absolutely nothing to offer back. You’d think, after the upbringing I’d had, I’d at least be used to it.
I wouldn’t call Alice a likable character, but she was certainly a compelling lead. I felt just as befuddled as she did along this journey; I honestly had no clue where this story would take us and was just as shocked as Alice at every twist and turn. While there was no sexual content whatsoever in this book (at least that I remember), it still made me give pause to what age range this book would be most appropriate for. Certainly the older side of the spectrum, as this was disturbing, unsettling, and contained a good bit of graphic violence/horror within the stories. I was warned many times over about how truly dark this book is, but I didn’t think it was something I’d blink an eye at, not with all the graphic murder mystery/thrillers I read, but this was different. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly provoked this sense of unease I felt; perhaps it was the not so light way the story was wrapped up? There isn’t much levity to be found here; if you’re the type of reader looking for a happy ending you most certainly have come to the wrong place.
Originally I gave this book 4 stars, but I’ve decided to bump it up to a full 5, seeing as it’s been almost a full week since I finished it and I cannot stop thinking about it. This quirky little novel has been jostling other stories I am currently reading, vying for attention in my head and further pondering, so for that reason, I think I need to give credit where credit is due. This book certainly won’t be for everyone, but I think the fans of dark fairytales and things that go bump in the night will wholly appreciate the author’s ability to conjure up such a complex tale that was detailed and, quite frankly, brilliant. Highly recommended!
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy.
Book #4 in my Nebulous November challenge!