Title: The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1)
Author: Melissa Albert
Pub. Date: January 30th, 2018
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Format: Physical ARC & eGalley
*HUGE thanks to Fierce Reads, Netgalley, and Melissa Albert for the early review copy in exchange for my honest opinion
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.
I’d like to preface this review by stating that no one is more surprised & bummed out by my reading experience with The Hazel Wood. I stayed clear of other reviews while reading once I caught wind of the divide in readers. This book feels like it will be a either you LOVE it or REALLY WANTED TO BUT JUST DIDN’T type of read & I fall into the latter. This has all the ingredients I look for in my Fantasy books however, the promise of “pitch dark fairy tales” was the real hook line & sinker. This is a very slow paced read & I for one am Ok with that because some of my favorite books have been and as long as the pay off is worth it I roll with it. The problem became evident when at the 60% mark I started eyeing the remaining pages wondering if there were enough left to transport me to the Hinterland & when that exactly was going to happen. It was like waiting for Lucy to find the door in the wardrobe that would take her to Narnia only she doesn’t discover it til the very end & at that point there really isn’t much time for world building. Although The Hazel Wood is labeled Fantasy, a large chunk of it is set in modern day.
We follow Alice and her mother who are always on the move trying to stay ten steps ahead of their “bad luck” & so a lot of the story is set on the road. Alice knows only that her mom doesn’t have a good relationship with her grandmother and as such has told her to stay away from her & The Hazel Wood where she lives. This all changes when Alice’s mother is kidnapped & she’s left with a last ditch warning from her mom to again stay away from The Hazel Wood. Alice of course disregards & starts searching for clues that will lead her to her mom, eventually all roads lead to the Hinterland and the passageway is The Hazelwood. Alice has never read her Grandmothers most famed written work Tales from the Hinterland but not for lack of trying. The hunt for this rare edition leads her to her classmate Ellery Finch who is OBSESSED with her grandmother & Tales from the Hinterland. Typically, Alice steers clear of all fans but she’s feeling really desperate & Ellery has read the book which gives them an advantage. Now, the way this relationship progresses was probably one of the main reasons I came to the conclusion that I really dislike Alice as a character. Yes, it’s clear that Ellery has a hidden agenda but we don’t know if he has ill intentions towards Alice or is just a super fan who will do anything to get into The Hazel Wood. The dialogue between these two is always abusive from Alice’s side. One specific instance is when they’re on the road & Finch makes up a game in order to break the ice & get to know each other better, maybe even help Alice remember important childhood memories that can help them. The game is called Memory Place and Ellery starts of with A is fo Amsterdam because that’s the place he lost his “V-card” & they continue through the alphabet only Alice gets exasperated & says she no longer wants to play…
“I don’t want to play your stupid game anymore”
“and who uses a car game as an excuse to brag about having sex with some bitch in a park”
“some bitch? she was my girlfriend for eight months. It’s so ugly when girls call each other that word”
“Oh, my God, Finch, go get a liberal arts degree”
Awkward…but this is very much who Alice is and although we get a better understanding for her character at the very end, it didn’t change the cringe worthy moments throughout the book where she was just downright unlike-able.
To be honest, I probably would’ve fared better in the tolerance department had the majority of this story been set in the Hinterland. I really did not enjoy Quentin Colwater’s character in The Magicians but once we were in Fillory, he got plenty of passes from me. Alice may not have been my favorite MC however, I’m a sucker for A+ world building & the glimpse that I got just wasn’t enough. There were two stories within The Hazel Wood that were from Tales from the Hinterland that were absolutely engrossing! Dark & twisted, I couldn’t get enough & found myself powering through the pages. However, these were short stories at the very end and I can’t judge my enjoyment of this book on just these two amazing short stories (I thought about it but I just can’t). The ending however, leaves much promise for the sequel and I found my interest piqued. I really enjoyed the story behind Alice once it was revealed at the very end, but don’t want to discuss for fear of spoilers. I will say that in the short amount of time I spent in the Hinterland, I found it to be filled with interesting characters & the land itself had a very dark & atmospheric vibe. The kind of place I would’ve loved getting lost in the pages with. I’d still encourage those who want to read this book to do so since I know blogger buddies who LOVED it to pieces. I myself wanted to LOVE it but ultimately it didn’t work out that way. Will I read the sequel or any of the authors future works? I’m going to say yes for now, it’s clear Melissa Albert knows how to write dark Fantasy. I’m very curious to see whether the sequel let’s us full out immerse ourselves into the treacherous world of the Hinterland and enjoy her story-telling in a fantastical setting…