Thank you to Netgalley & Penguin Random House for this ARC copy.
I started this book a little bit reluctantly, I’ll admit. I’d read some poor reviews, some reviews that had tainted my opinion of this book before I’d even started. There had been tales of it not being hugely fantasy orientated until the final half, problematic themes, annoying central characters. When I started the book I was a little bit apprehensive, a little bit ‘oh god, I’m going to hate it’. I didn’t hate it. I really didn’t. I started it at around 4.30pm yesterday afternoon. By the time I went to bed at about 10pm, I was 65% of the way through. This morning I polished it off, devoured it, if you will. I absolutely loved it.
‘The Hazel Wood’ is the story of a girl named Alice. She’s spent her life travelling, moving from one city to another when bad luck finds her and her mother, Ella. She’s haunted by the legacy of her grandmother, Althea, and the fairy tales she wrote. When tragedy strikes, Alice is forced to face up to her past, and venture to discover the Hazel Wood, meeting an assortment of characters along the way. I love fairy tales, which I think is kind of what sold this to me. The darker the better. There’s a definite darkness in this book, one that really captivated me. I’ll come back to that later though. Had the story not been set in New York at the beginning, I think I might have struggled. It brought back elements of the Shadowhunters series, by Cassandra Clare, in that there’s a normal, everyday life trying to take place, but the mystical and magical keep worming their way through, seeping into that longed for normality. I liked the set up of the story at the beginning, the occasional peeks into Alice’s past life with Ella. It didn’t feel rushed, but also didn’t lag, didn’t make the book feel like it was telling you all these things just to get to the main event. It all felt important, little tidbits of information that needed to be heard, understood, and then tucked away for later reference, just in case.
Character-wise, I really kind of liked Alice. Yes, I had serious issues with how she treats Ellery, and her total blindness to his issues regarding the police officer, but on a general level, I didn’t find her irritating, instead finding myself wanting to know more about her and her journey to the Hazel Wood. As the story played out, I began to understand her a bit more, appreciated how lost and displaced she must have felt. I didn’t necessarily always agree with some of her decisions or choices, but I liked, in a way, how she challenged my opinion of her. I went in expecting to hate her and was pleasantly surprised. I wish we had got to see more of Ella, however. I feel like there was so much more to learn about her, the effect her past must have had on her. I felt like it was hinted by secondary characters, mentioned in passing, but not properly explored. We got little snippets of curiosity inducing information about her, but never found out concrete facts. Never really discovered her motives. Now that I know this isn’t a stand-alone, that it is in fact a series, I’m hopeful that we might find out more in the future. About Ella, and about Althea too. Meanwhile, Ellery was a character I adored, but felt was unjustly served within this book. I wanted so much more for him. Although I’m pleased by his ending, as it’s what he longed for, I feel like the way he got there could have been further explored. Plus, I can totally see (and acknowledge) the issues that other reviewers have with this book regarding race. It is a problem, but one that hopefully the author will take on board in the future. I think there was an attempt at tackling the issues, politically, but it just wasn’t executed in the right way, particularly in the context of the rest of the book. I enjoyed his character arc though and I was pleased he got his closure. He was a likeable character.
That darkness that I spoke about earlier – it really did enthrall me. I found myself longing to read Tales of the Hinterland, desperate to know more. Ellery’s passion for those stories infected me, along with all the other Althea fans. But fairy tales don’t always turn out as you hoped, and these fairy tales were dangerous, full of genuine fear and anger. Some of the descriptions within the narrative felt a little clunky at times, whilst others were beautiful, inspiring bewitching imagery to form in my head. I enjoyed how characters I met early in the book, came back towards the end, just when I thought they had been forgotten, or I had mistaken their importance. I was genuinely sad when it ended, desperate to continue discovering more, finding more Stories and hearing their tales. I’m quite glad this isn’t a stand-alone. I’m looking forward to discovering more about the Hinterland. I can only hope it stays just as dark in the future, letting itself become fully immersed in the fantastical nature of it all. Melissa Albert has written a fabulous book here, and I honestly would recommend it. If you like fantasy, young adult, and deliciously dark fairy tales, give this a read. It will bewitch you in the best way and leave you thinking about it’s chilling tales for a long while after.
ARC copy of this book provided by Netgalley & Penguin Random House. Review also posted on Goodreads.