Opening Line: My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.
My reaction: mmmmm okay, tell me more.
I’m going to preface this review with saying that I recognize that this book is not for everybody. I would also say that you should go in with no expectation of what you think it should be about. If you do that, you will potentially love it, like I did. Don’t go in thinking this should be an Alice in Wonderland retelling. Don’t go in thinking this should be a high epic fantasy adventure. If you do either of those things, you will be disappointed. One of the things that make The Hazel Wood so great is that it’s its own thing. Just go in and allow Melissa Albert to take you on this strange and mysterious journey into her own fairy tale world.
With that being said, let’s talk about The Hazel Wood.
This is a story about a girl named Alice who has been constantly shuffled around the country with her mother since before she could remember and always on the run from the bad luck that seems to stalk them. No matter where they went bad luck followed close behind until one day her mother receives a mysterious letter stating that Alice’s grandmother had died. Though she’s never met her, Alice knows that her grandmother was a recluse who had once published a book of fairy tales that her mother refused to let her read. This only fueled Alice’s curiosity and so for years she attempted to hunt down her grandmother’s book to no avail. The fairy tale stories remained as much of a mystery as the woman herself.
After her grandmother’s death, Alice’s mother deems it safe for them to settle and she marries a rich man and the two move in with him and his daughter in their swanky NYC condo. Not long after though, bad luck creeps back in, and Alice’s mother suddenly disappears leaving Alice to hunt down the answers about the origin of her grandmother’s dark fairy tales.
**Seriously, big spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned**
Oh my, the prose in this book. You cannot deny that Melissa Albert is a beautiful writer. The narrative in this book is nothing short of gorgeous. Not once did I find this book predictable, (okay, maybe once) the fairy tale twisty turny feel of the plot was amazing. I was completely sucked in through the first three quarters of the book until the actually ‘fantasy’ element was introduced.
It was strange, it felt like I was suddenly reading a completely different book after I got to the last quarter of the story. I absolutely loved the mystery of who Alice’s grandmother really was, what the stories in her book were actually about, and how it all tied to Alice. That is what kept me engaged. But once we actually got to Hinterland I started to lose interest. I almost felt like all of this build up was done but the actually place was sort of a letdown. I needed it to be….idk…weirder? Scarier? I felt that fear for most of the book but once she entered Hinterland I didn’t feel like she was ever in any real danger. Though I will admit, how they broke the story was pretty cool.
Speaking of breaking the story, let’s touch on the love interest that wasn’t actually a love interest. I thought Finch was absolutely adorable if not for the super predictable fact that he was sort of working with the enemy. I saw that one coming a mile away. But what annoyed me the most is that these two are on this crazy journey and Alice thinks about Finch in that way but no one ever makes a move! I mean, COME ON, you’re camping out together in janky motels and NOTHING? Not saying that they needed to get crazy but, I don’t know, something would have been nice. Especially since it would have made his almost death hit a bit harder. Either that, or remove the attraction all together and just really make them friends. It just felt like a promise to the reader that went unfulfilled.
Speaking of unfilled promises, that ending, I mean, what? What a sad and depressing ending. Now, this is just a personal preference, I’m aware, but I do enjoy a good happy ending. It bugs me a bit when things are left so uncertain and the character doesn’t have a solid new stasis. I think this is what ended up being the biggest disappointment for me was the fact that Alice just ends up this depressed girl with no direction in life. She worked so hard to break away from Hinterland and find freedom for her and her mother but just ended up empty. Guh. Some people may like that ending, I get it, but I like a happy ending with more of a positive outlook. It feels more complete that way. I don’t like to leave characters when it feels like their stories aren’t complete.
I do highly recommend this book though if you’re looking for a fairy tale mystery with beautiful prose and interesting characters. Give it a shot!
Until next time, here’s a quote from the book:
“There are no lessons in it. There's just this harsh, horrible world touched with beautiful magic, where shity 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.”
― Melissa Albert, The Hazel Wood
***EDIT- So I just realized that there is a book two coming out for this! Perhaps that is why the ending felt so incomplete? If that's the case, I forgive you Melissa Albert. :)