The Hazel Wood. Melissa Albert. Penguin. Release date: 8th February 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…
Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin for providing me with a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I finished reading The Hazel Wood over the Christmas holidays and I have been putting off writing my review ever since, because I had no idea what to say about it without being too spoilery. It’s one of those books you’re better off going into without knowing too much, because the weird twists and turns are what make it such a compelling read.
When I first read the description of this book, I was DESPERATE to get my hands on it, especially when I saw that one reviewer had compared it to Night Film by Marisha Pessl (which is one of my favourite books of all time). When I initially requested the book on Netgalley, I got rejected, and I was SO disappointed, but then a few weeks later I randomly decided to try my luck again and this time I got approved! I was OVER THE MOON.
This was such a fantastic book to read over Christmas because it provided a strange and absorbing world to escape into whenever Christmassy socialising got a bit overwhelming. It’s one of those books that really draws you in and makes you forget where you are. The writing is creepy, atmospheric, and surreal; in other words, my ultimate cup of tea.
What made The Hazel Wood such an addictive read for me was the weird mystery of it all, and the blurred lines between fantasy and reality. I can see why this book has been compared to Night Film, because both books are reality-bending, thrilling reads, and both involve a character investigating the works and worlds of a mysterious, elusive creator (in Night Film it’s a cult horror movie director, but in The Hazel Wood it’s a cult fairytale writer; what a cool thing to be obscurely famous for, amiright?!).
Althea Proserpine, author of ‘Tales From The Hinterland’ was such a fascinating character, because she is such an enigma in the story; Alice, her granddaughter (and our protagonist) has never even read a copy of her book because it’s so rare and difficult to get hold of. Her stories are a mystery, her fans are full of strange theories which they discuss on shady internet forums, her estate ‘The Hazel Wood’ has attained mythical status, because nobody knows where it is, though many have tried to find it, and being an absent Grandmother, she’s a missing piece in Alice’s family puzzle too. I adored the experience of unravelling each thread in this complex, one-woman mystery.
Another thing I really enjoyed about The Hazel Wood was the mother/daughter dynamic between Alice and her mother Ella. Ella is something of an enigma too, because she is a keeper of many secrets, and as the majority of the book’s storyline is Alice’s quest to find Ella, they don’t get that much page-time together. However, it was lovely to see how close Alice felt to, and fiercely loyal she was towards, her mum (something we don’t often see in YA books), and Alice’s connection with her mum really helped me to find a connection with her (something I struggled with initially, because I found her spiky and difficult to warm up to).
I really enjoyed all of the flashbacks from Alice’s childhood with Ella, and it was interesting to see how their lifestyle affected and deepened the bond between them; Alice’s whole childhood was spent moving from place to place, sometimes at the drop of a hat, so, being all each other really had in the world, Alice and Ella were bound very tightly together from the beginning.
Undoubtedly what I loved most about The Hazel Wood was its use of fairytale. Although we don’t get to hear all of Althea’s tales, I was gripped completely by each and every one of them. I wish ‘Tales From The Hinterland’ was a real book (or at the very least, a spin-off written by Melissa Albert 😛 ), because I would give anything to read it.
The fairytales interspersed within this novel were so dark, strange, and creepy, and I just devoured them. The beginning of the story ‘Alice Three Times’ in particular made me shiver. I don’t want to say too much about the stories and how they tie in with Alice’s quest, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found the whole concept very imaginative, and very well executed. I would have liked the last section of the book to have been a little longer, so we could have delved more deeply into the setting of Althea’s stories, but I’m pretty sure there is going to be a sequel to this book, so I’m grateful there is still plenty more to explore.
All in all, The Hazel Wood was a novel I couldn’t put down (and immediately decided to re-read upon finishing!) I cannot wait for this book to come out in February so I can get my hands on a physical copy, and I can’t wait for more people to read this so I have someone to talk about it with!
Have you read The Hazel Wood? What did you think of it? Reviews seem to be mixed, but for me it completely lived up to my (very high) expectations!