Morning Mortals! Time for a review of one of January’s most anticipated reads. The Hazel Wood has been on my list for goodness knows how long and I was so excited to have been approved to read it in advance. This is a delightfully spooky fairytale adventure and I have a lot of thoughts so without further ado let’s jump right in:
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.
This book is your standard ‘young girl realises the world she lives in is far more than it appears’ which should be an utter snooze-fest at this point. The ‘fairytale inspired’ market is utterly flooded at the moment, this month alone I’ve read at least 3 retelling/inspired books. But this isn’t a snooze fest. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s a wake fest. Wait no that makes it sound like a wake. It’s not a funeral either. What I’m trying and most definitely failing to say is that this book is an exciting adventure from start to finish.
I think part of it rests on the fact that the ‘fairytale’ inspiration on which this book rests is utterly unique. The stories involved are written by Melissa Albert and they are gloriously macabre. They remind me of the grit and grotesque-ness of original fairytales, but they also have a strong sense of ghost story surrounding them. It’s that slight creepiness that is scattered throughout this story that makes it truly compelling.
The main character, Alice, is also surprisingly bearable. She’s wonderfully aware of her own ability to get swept up in a fantasy world. That means that while she doesn’t completely disregard the wonder of suddenly discovering that something in a book is real (which, let’s be honest we would all have) she still recognises the danger she is in and she acts rationally (for the most part). What I’m saying is she doesn’t fall too far into either the ‘cynical and annoying’ or ‘naive and therefore in danger all the time’ camps.
Ellery Finch, whose relationship with Alice is hard to describe (another good thing, no-one likes a predictable relationship), is another great character. I do think that in part he is there to be wealthy and therefore to enable some of the parts of the story, but that juxtaposition between his huge wealth and the life Alice has lead was an interesting dynamic to explore.
There are parts of this book I could compare to Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows and also elements one could bring in from Tales of the Peculiar. Predominantly, however, this book felt totally unique to me. The overwhelming sense I had was that I was reading something I had never read before – which happens less often the more I read sadly.
That’s not to say that some of the plot points weren’t totally predictable from the start, but I think that was a deliberate choice. Like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs Albert leaves a trail through this story that you can notice if you’ve got your eye out for it.
I know some of the early reader’s haven’t enjoyed this book as much as they wanted to. I can sort of see that anyone expecting a nice fairytale book would be a little confused by this. I, however, thouroughly enjoyed myself. I will be keeping an eye out for more books in The Hazel Wood universe.
My Rating: 5/5 stars
By the way, I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Was this one of your anticipated reads for January? Let me know in the comments below!