The Hazel Wood. Melissa Albert. Fantasy/Young adult/Mystery. 2018. 368 pages. 3 stars.
I feel like I’m playing a part in a movie where all the sets have burned down. And the script got erased. And the cameras have no film, and we’re in a haunted movie a lot in a bad part of town.
I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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.
The Hazel Wood is easily one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. Its dark urban fantasy theme can really get under your skin if you’re easily spooked. It follows the story of Alice, whose mother disappears and the only warning that was given to her was to stay away from the hazel wood–where her grandmother lived. Her grandmother, Althea, was a fairytale writer whose stories featured many dark characters and plots, often ending in death or something very close to it.
Admittedly, I enjoyed the first half more than the second half of the book. The first half is where real places like New York are interweaved with Althea’s stories. It does remind me of the movie Percy Jackson where Percy finds out he’s not an ordinary human and is then hunted by a lot of creatures. The Hazel Wood is somewhat like that except instead of Greek mythology, it’s your grandmother’s stories. When these fairytale characters come to life and hunt down Alice, that’s when things become creepy. Stalker-like behavior and invasive photographs present themselves that gave me chills despite reading the book in broad daylight. It’s the kind of book you read that makes you look over your shoulder just to make sure that no one is watching/following you.
As much as I liked the adventure narrative of the story, I can’t say the same for the characters. I did not like the character of Alice. While the way the story was written showed her to be real and candid, her anger issues made her unlikeable. She expresses a lot of violent and rude thoughts without giving the readers an explanation. Was Alice a naturally angry and violent person or was there a mental illness involved? To add to that, her vicious thoughts kept anticipating the reader that she was eventually going to act upon them, yet she never does. It became anticlimactic for me to see a character so unusually angry but to never erupt the way she builds it up. Alice’s mom, Ella, was a character I was confused with mainly because I had no idea what her place was in the story (which is partially my fault because I admit to skimming most of the second half).
I did not like Finch at all. Similar to Alice’s suspicions, I did not trust Finch from the very beginning. He was too excited and quick to agree to Alice’s wishes, even though it was justified by his being a superfan of Althea’s stories. I also found it annoying how the plot only seemed to progress because of Finch’s ability to throw money at whatever they needed. The convenience of it was too much of a cop out for a better adventure that the first half gave us.
Once the characters delved into the fairytale land, that’s when I lost interest. The writing shifted to something dull and dumped a lot of information about an alien world all at once. Amazing world building has to be taken in small doses in order to be comprehended fully. The Hazel Wood, however, did not take this into account and instead threw me head first into the land of fairytales. Henceforth, I was a goner.
I think those who will enjoy this story are those who love urban fantasies and dark fairytales. As someone who is not a fan of urban fantasy, you can see why I did not like this story as much.
The Hazel Wood is set to be released on 30 January 2018.