BOOK REVIEW: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Blurb (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.

My Thoughts:

I love books that use fairy tales in new and inventive ways, and so was interested in this contemporary urban fantasy for young adults. The premise is intriguing … seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have lived their life on the road, always running, always looking over their shoulders. Alice does not really know why. It has something to do with Alice’s grandmother, Althea Proserpine, a recluse who once wrote a collection of dark, strange, creepy fairy tales that have gained a kind of weird cultish following.  Alice has never read her grandmother’s book, much as she’d like to. The book is so rare, its almost as if someone (or something) is deliberately hunting down copies and destroying them.

Then Alice’s grandmother dies. Alice’s mother is taken. Alice must solve the mystery on her own. The only clue she has is her mother’s last message: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Luckily Alice has a super-rich friend who is as obsessed with Althea Proserpine as she is. Together they set out to find the Hazel Wood.

Alice’s voice is very well done. She’s cool, wry, and sarcastic. She trusts no-one, suspects everything. To begin with, the book has a strong narrative pull, carried along by the strength of Alice’s voice and the tantalising glimpses we get of her grandmother’s stories. The pace falters about halfway through the book, but there is was enough momentum set up by the mystery to keep me reading. And Melissa Albert has a lovely turn of phrase, and is not afraid to surprise and even shock the reader.

Once the narrative moves from our world to the Hinterland, the magical world of story, I felt my interest flag even more, which is odd because I was really looking forward to seeing this strange and magical world that is the source of Alice’s grandmother’s stories. All in all, though, I enjoyed the book and think the author has got real talent. My favourite parts of the book were actually Althea Proserpine’s fairy tales themselves – very dark and eerie.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Another wonderful Young Adult novel that draws on fairy tales is Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower – I review it here:

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Kate Forsyth
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