The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
From Goodreads: 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.
Thanks, as ever, to Netgalley for letting me read an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Okay, can we just take a moment to swoon over this pretty, pretty cover? I’m a bit sad that my ebook version didn’t come with this, but I can only imagine how glorious it will look on the shelf. Sigh.
So I had pretty high hopes for this one, going in. I tried to apply for it on Netgalley a few months back and got rejected, but it turns out I’d been applying for the wrong region. There’s also been a huuuuuuge amount of hype surrounding this debut, with quite a few people speculating it will feature in some book subscription boxes when it gets released. So yeah, quite a few of you might find yourselves an owner of this stunning book. Also, it was pitched to me as really dark fairy tales, and since I love that kind of thing (Angela Carter is still the GODDESS of dark fairy tale retellings though), I couldn’t wait to check it out.
The book started really strong for me. I liked the whole urban setting, and Alice stood out from the first. I found myself super intrigued by the grandmother, and I loved how it opened with a ‘snippet’ from an article about her. There’s so much mystery surrounding her character, and I think that’s largely what propelled me through the book. Some of the other characters were fairly cool, especially later on in the book, but I did think that Finch might have done with a little fleshing out, especially since he turned out to play quite a major role in the storyline. The interwoven fairy tales were also a biiiiig draw for me, and I totally couldn’t help shivering while reading them. They were so dark! But they were also really compelling, and I like that they were also fresh and new, rather than presenting retellings of familiar fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. There was clearly a lot of research on the genre done by the author, which wins her a lot of kudos in my mind.
Moving on to the cons in this book, and I have to say the ending didn’t do it for me. Which is a shame since I was really excited for about 2/3rds of the novel, and then it essentially pulled the same plot thing out of the hat as The Fandom did. I mean, I do vaguely like the concept of exploring agency and the process of writing, but I just felt like it was something I’d seen before. It also didn’t help that the ending just seemed to lack any of the things I actually liked Alice for– her strength and tenacity, her ability to think on her feet… they were all kind of washed away in favour of a very meh ending. I don’t want to be too spoilery, since I know the book isn’t out yet, but I do think it might have benefited from being a bit more character driven rather than plot. It sort of seems like the author had the plot fixed in her head and wouldn’t change it, which sometimes works but here it fell a bit flat.
That being said, I will happily pick up book two when it comes out. I’ll be very intrigued to see where Albert takes it, considering how she ended this one.
Overall, I’d give The Hazel Wood 7.5 stars out of 10.