by Melissa Albert
Published on January 30, 2018 by Flatiron Books
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
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So. The Hazel Wood. This is a book that, if I passed it in the bookstore I’d immediately pick it up for that cover alone. And then I’d read the synopsis and be hooked.
Then I’d read the book and be horribly disappointed.
I’m not sure what ruined the book for me — my own expectations or the hype (which just served to raise those expectations even more).
Meet Alice. She’s got anger management issues. There wasn’t much about her that I found worth being interested in. Not someone I want to root for. Her friend Finch, I could get behind. The boy is obsessed with her grandmother’s book of fairy tales and wants to find the magic. I liked him. I cared about him.
Does Finch get a book? That’d be great. I’d read that.
So Alice is going along with her mother and you get these random flashbacks to her past and all these potentially creepy moments in her history. You’d think that’d make the story a bit more interesting, right?
Eh, not really. The Hazel Wood is written in what I can only describe as a unique style. Very fairy tale-esque at times but not terribly interesting. I LOVE fairy tales so you’d think I’d have liked it but I wanted more than just the tales. I wanted a story and, frankly, it took way too long to get to the real heart of this one and when I thought it’d gotten there, I realized I still had half the book which seemed to ramble and become a separate thing entirely. It really felt like this was two books mashed into one.
This slow SLOW build to all the tension gave me plenty of time to figure out all the plot twists. Sometimes I enjoy that, I feel clever for having figured it out early. But I pretty much called all the ones in this book well in advance so when I got to a particularly “exciting” scene, it fell flat.
In general, this book was just kind of average for me from a plot perspective. It definitely took a different path from what I expected based on the synopsis, and after a while felt more like rambling than a cohesive story (especially for a standalone), and the ending left me unsatisfied. Unless there’s a second book in the works that hasn’t been announced, I don’t see why so many of the storylines was left as open as they were. There’s still room for the story to go somewhere and, to me, it hasn’t really ended and I haven’t felt that sense of closure.
And yet. . . the writing had a magical element to it. I don’t think it worked for me in terms of this novel but on its own, I loved it. There were points in the story where one character would re-tell one of the tales that Alice’s grandmother wrote in her book. Those moments were magical because the author used that enchanting voice to bring those short fairy tales to life. If Albert wrote out the Hinterland fairy tales and published it, I would buy that in a heartbeat.
This is a book that, perhaps, on a reread I would come to appreciate it more and I do think that I may purchase a copy in the future when the price has gone down, but for now, I’m just disappointed in it.