ARC Review: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood


Title: The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Series: N/A

Publisher: Penguin

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Rating:

Four Stars

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a 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 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.

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began…

– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com

I received an ARC of this book free from Penguin Platform. It in no way affects my views on The Hazel Wood.

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“Look until the leaves turn red, sew the worlds up with thread. If your journey’s left undone, fear the rising of the sun.”
The words blew through me like a cold wind. Nursery rhymes always did that to me, even the harmless ones. This one didn’t seem harmless.

Alice and her mother have spent their entire lives on the move, trying in vain to stay one step ahead of the bad luck that constantly finds them. Then Alice’s grandmother, the recluse author of Tales of the Hinterland, dies and Alice’s mother seems to think this means their bad luck is over. The two settle down, and Alice tries to live a normal life until the day she arrives home from school and finds an envelope containing the title page of one of her grandmothers stories in the place of her mother.

The Hazel Wood was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. The blurb made it sound like a dark, eerie fairytale-inspired story, which is pretty much all I needed to know to add this one to my TBR list. There was a lot of background to get through in the opening of The Hazel Wood, the author writes about Alice’s past but also delves into the lives of her mother and grandmother. This does mean it takes a while to get to the action of the story, but more me the background made the magic real as it explained the dark fairytales that act as the main theme to this book.

“What if when she said the Hinterland, she meant the Hinterland.”
“Make sense, Finch. Please.”
“The Hinterland. It’s the place where the stories, you know, connect. They’re all set in the same place.”

Together with Finch, a boy from her school who is a fan of her grandmother’s book, Alice travel to The Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s estate where she has never before stepped foot, to try and find her mother. However as Alice and Finch struggle to unravel the mystery of her mother’s disappearance they start to see characters from the Hinterlands in the real world, characters who seem to have taken a special interest in Alice.

Like it takes a while for the story to move past Alice’s background it also takes a while for us to arrive at The Hazel Wood and the Hinterlands. It’s only really the last quarter of the book that we see the world Alice and Finch were moving towards and I wish the book had spent more time there because that’s the part of this story, the home of the creepy fairytales and the dark magic, that I enjoyed reading the most.

…The Characters

“When Alice was born, her eyes were black from end to end, and the midwife didn’t stay long enough to wash her.”

Alice can be a cold and standoffish character. She doesn’t have much patience for people and outside of her mother she doesn’t care much about anyone either. Alice seems lost in the world now her and her mother have stopped moving and are trying to settle in one place; her stepfather’s house isn’t Alice’s home and she has no friends at her fancy new school. It was hard for me to empathise with Alice’s character, simply because she was very closed off from other people.

When her mother goes missing Alice is determined to find her, even if finding her means going to The Hazel Wood’s, the only place her mother told her to never step foot. Alice doesn’t seem scared of what she might find there, but she is aware of how lost she would be without Finch. Alice knows very little about her grandmother and the stories she published of the Hinterlands, her mother kept that part of her life in the dark despite Alice’s curiosity as a child.

“She took care of me and I took care of her, in a symbiotic relationship that looked cute on TV but felt fucking exhausting when you’re moving for the third time in a year and don’t even have a bedroom door to slam.”

The relationship between Alice and her mother isn’t a typical mother/daughter relationship. The two have only ever had each other and just as Ella looks out for her daughter, Alice also looks out for her mother. Alice doesn’t let many people in, it’s only Ella who’s managed to break through the ice that seems to surround Alice’s heart. Ella has tried her hardest to protect Alice, and it’s only as Alice gets closer to the Hinterlands that you realise the depths of what her mother has done for her.

Alice’s grandmother has always been a distant figure in her life. When she was a child Alice was obsessed; she would dig up any information she could find on her grandmother and her stories, and she used to fantasise about the life they could have lived together at The Hazel Wood. Ella has always been determined to keep Alice away from her grandmother and The Hazel Wood however, so Alice buried that curiosity and put it behind her until she needs it to find her mother.

“Maybe Finch wasn’t trying to be the sidekick in my story. Maybe he was trying to start one of his own.”

Finch tries to be Alice’s friend at school, connecting her with her grandmother whose stories he loved, and when Alice’s mother goes missing he helps her on her journey to the Hinterlands. Alice isn’t sure whether Finch is helping for her or the possibility of seeing The Hazel Wood but she knows she wouldn’t get far without him. I really liked what we saw of Finch’s character, but I feel like there was a lot about him left undiscovered. That’s not to say his development felt lacking, just that there’s much more of his story left to be told.

…The Setting

“There are no lessons in it. There’s just this harsh, horrible world touched with beautiful magic, where shitty things happen. And they don’t happen for a reason, or in threes, or in a way that looks like justice. They’re set in a place that has no rules and doesn’t want any. And the author’s voice – your grandmother’s voice – is perfectly pitiless. She’s like a war reporter who doesn’t give a fuck.”

What I loved the most about this book was the setting, and it’s why I wished we’d been able to spend more time in The Hazel Wood and the Hinterlands when the story finally arrived there. There’s a lot of darkness in the stories Alice’s grandmother wrote, similar to the Grimm brothers’ fairytales where there’s no such thing as a happy ending, and cruel characters, who reminded me a little of the beautiful but brutal fae characters Holly Black writes. Melissa Albert has an incredible talent for writing dark fairytales, the chapters where Finch retells stories from Tales from the Hinterlands for Alice were my favourite chapters, and I loved discovering everything I could of the world Alice’s grandmother told tales of.


While The Hazel Wood wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped it would be, I think my expectations were too high, it was still a brilliant story full of dark fairytales and bittersweet endings. This book was unlike any other fairytale-inspired story I’ve read before, there was a lot of background in the plot which could have potentially taken away but in my opinion only added to Alice’s story.

What did you think of The Hazel Wood? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

All quotes have been taken from an ARC and may differ in the final publication.

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26 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Hazel Wood

  1. That’s an interesting cover for this book. I’m so used to that US one hahah Sorry to hear that expectations have hindered your experience with this one, Beth. The Hazel Wood and the Hinterlands really sound like awesome settings and it indeed sounds like it would have probably been so much more fun if there were more of it. Great and honest review though! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah the US one is the one most people have seen, personally I think the US one is a little prettier but I guess the UK one is slightly more obscure which adds a little something maybe? Definitely a shame but sometimes there are just books our expectations are too high for and this was one of them. I do think if the story had read the Hinterlands quicker I would have enjoyed it more.
      Thanks so much Lashaan! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review Beth! You def hit the nail on the head with both Alice & Finch. I do wish we had a tad bit more of character exploration with Finch, I found him very intriguing. I really tried to like Alice but in the end I think I settled with an understanding of her & how she’ came to be who she is. It’s not like she had a wonderful childhood & her mother really didn’t play that role all too well. By the end when we get an explanation from the Hinterland, she makes sense but still totally not my cup of tea 😂😂😂 the dark fairytales gave us such a different side of Melissa Albert’s story telling, I reallllly wanted more of that. I’m glad you enjoyed this one Beth, & although I didn’t as much, I have faith in her writing to bring it on the sequel 🙌🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Lilly! 😀 Yeah more Finch would have been great (although I do think that the sequel will be about him, so if that is the case we’ll certainly get more development there). Oh I can understand how you feel about Alice, for the most part I liked her character but she was very hard to connect to, and yeah discovering the truth of her heritage kind of explained some of that but I get what you mean when you say she’s not your cup of tea! 😀
      Well I read one of the books Melissa Albert is contracted for is Tales of the Hinterland, so she’ll be releasing them kind of like Leigh Bardugo did with The Language of Thorns, that I can’t wait for! 😀 ❤

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  3. Would this book be a good one to read during Halloween? 😋 I know it’s a while off, but I’m currently in the mood for non-creepy books, just because I feel like I’ve been reading really dark and heavily-themed books recently. This was a really detailed review & definitely sparked my interest for The Hazel Wood — I enjoyed reading your post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually yes it probably would. It’s a fairytale but a dark fairytale like the Grimm Brothers’ wrote, where there never really going to be a happy ending. 🙂 No I get what you mean, there are times when I feel like I need something different and then I tend to lean more towards YA contemporary than YA fantasy. Thanks so much Zoie, I’m really glad you enjoyed this post and I hope you enjoy this book as well. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review, Beth! I am really happy to hear you enjoyed this book, even if you were a bit disappointed by the time spent in Hinterland. I am currently reading this book so I’l admit that I might have skipped your review a bit, afraid of spoilers, but… I’m almost done with it so I guess I’m safe, haha. I really like the story and the characters, I think my favorite thing though is the particular atmosphere this book has. It’s… creepy and weird and I like it hahaha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Marie. 🙂 ❤️ Yeah I think in the end even though my expectations were a little too high for this one it was still a good read. Oh that’s OK, and you’ll have to let me know what you think of this one when you’ve read what little of it you have left. It sounds like you’re enjoying it so far and yeah the creepy atmosphere was something I really enjoyed in this one. It reminded me of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, where nothing really had a happy ending, just an ending! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely loved this book! (I haven’t written my review for it yet). Great review – you make a good point about the setting in the Hazel Wood and the Hinterlands. i realize now that it would have been a lot of fun to spend more time there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed this one, and thanks so much Nicole. 🙂
      Yeah the world building, especially when it’s the kind like the Hinterlands, is usually my favourite aspect of fantasy stories so I would have loved to explore it more in this book! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh I’m sorry to hear it wasn’t as awesome as you’d hoped it would be, Beth :/ When our expectations are way too high, that’s unfortunately what happens.
    I love how you compare this to Grimms’ fairy tales and how dark it is. Alice’s relationship with her mother and grandmother sounds so intriguing! I feel like any standoffish character who’s super anti-social a complete win in my book, so I’m looking forward to meeting this girl 🙂 I love the whole mystery surrounding pretty much every single thing in this story, it really makes me excited to go explore it further!
    Finch sounds like a pretty alright guy and even if we don’t get to figure out everything about him, I think it’s part of the charm 🙂
    Will keep this one in mind for later! To have you call it “brilliant” despite everything is enough for me to add it to my TBR. Amazing review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sophie, yeah I think the hype for this one was just a little too much for the book itself to live up to. It happens every now and again I suppose. 🙂
      Oh this was definitely full of dark fairytales. I love the Grimm versions of fairytales so in that aspect this was a perfect read for me, and yeah there was an incredibly interesting family dynamic too. I’ve said before we need to see more of that in YA fantasy; Alice’s relationship with her mother and grandmother wasn’t perfect, but it was well written and felt real you know? I really hope you enjoy this book Sophie, there were plenty of amazing parts to the story, I’d just say go in with slightly lower expectations and this could be a five star read for you! 😀
      Ha, yeah I guess I wouldn’t have liked Finch’s character as much if I knew everything there was to know about him, no mystery left. 😀
      Definitely keep this one in mind, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it even if you don’t end up loving it. Thanks so much Sophie! 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup, couldn’t agree more! I love romance as much as the next person but that’s not all there is in real life… In fact, most meaningful relationships are not the romantic kind at all! So I hope more authors take that path as well 🙂
        I’ll take your advice, Beth ^^ And I’ll eventually get to it, hopefully soon!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Aislynn. 🙂 Yeah there are already a fair few mixed reviews for this one. I guess I was just lucky enough that even though it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, I still really enjoyed The Hazel Wood. 🙂
      I’ll keep my fingers crossed you fall into the ‘love it’ camp as well then! 😀

      Like

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