“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: True fairy tales are dark, spooky, violent, and gruesome. Somehow, over the years they became sanitized. Gone are the deaths and disfigurements from a lesson not learned. Vanished is the irreparable harm the villains cause the heroes. Missing are the harsh lessons about morality and manners such stories instill in the reader. Melissa Albert’s debut novel, however, changes that trend to give us the dark and disturbing fairy tale type story that people love.
The catch is that The Hazel Wood is not a fairy tale story in the traditional sense. It is not a children’s story, nor is it idealized, magical, or extremely happy. It is the underbelly of fairy tales, the parts that were edited out by Disney and other retellings. It is anger, madness, depression, and homelessness. It is spectacular.
The Hazel Wood is another debut novel that does not like read like an author’s first attempt at telling a story. There is a cohesion to the story that many debut novels do not have. Moreover, the characters have a definiteness to them that fleshes them out into multi-dimensional, real characters to whom unreal events occur. Ms. Albert’s word usage is succinct but effective with remarkable prose that paints quite the picture. All of this helps blur the line between fiction and fantasy with a skill that belies her experience level.
It may sound clichéd, but The Hazel Wood is unlike anything I have read in recent years. Alice is a compelling character that begs you to follow alongside her as she searches for a sense of belonging and as well as her mother. The Hazel Wood is unique, not quite Fae and yet definitely not of the real world. The few plot twists remain a surprise, fueling your interest in Alice’s story, and enticing you to continue reading. Fantasy lovers looking for something quite out of the ordinary should not miss this fantastic story from an author who is sure to make a name for herself.