Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Release Date: February 8th 2018
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.