Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Hazel Wood [The Hazel Wood #1] - Melissa Albert

Title - The Hazel Wood
Author - Melissa Albert

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.


ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve started writing the review for this book no less than five times, and every time I have struggled to sum up what I felt about it. The first and most important thing I would say about this book is that it is well written; it is actually quite a stark comparison to other books in the same genre in that it makes you painfully aware that a huge amount of young adult authors are better storytellers than they are authors. It is very clear that Melissa Albert is a seriously talented author: it’s lyrical and poetic, but not a way that makes you think it was solely deigned to be a pinned on Pinterest or stuck on a nice graphic on Tumblr (I’m looking at you Tahereh Mafi and your tripping rainfalls). It's beautiful language that masterfully paints the setting for you.

Essentially, this book can be divided into two major parts – the first half, set in New York, does a really good job of setting up the plot, planting the seed of weirdness and attempting to alienate you from the main character. I realise that most books often try and make you love the narrative that is being told and an extension of that is a connection with the narrator – Alice as a narrator is not the most likeable person when you meet her. It’s not like she is outright awful, but there is an obvious distance between her and the audience; she is angry and angsty and very hard to relate to. Now, I can’t tell you if this is on purpose or just a happy accident, but when you get to the second half of the book and all of this pent up rage and aggression is confronted, it creates a much more complex character than if Albert had gone with a simple happy-go-lucky character.

The second half of the book is a lot like if you took one wrong left turn and dropped headlong into Alice in Wonderland... but if it was directed by Tim Burton's darker and more twisted cousin. It is weird, nonsensical and wholly bizarre. If you are not the kind of person who enjoys odd and irreverent kinds of plots, then this book is definitely not for you, but if you enjoy getting in Willy Wonka’s weird boat and letting him steer you into madness then this is a really good book for you.

As is always the case with books of this genre in my opinion, this is by no means perfect, so I’m going to try and balance out the positives with some things I didn’t like about it. The primary motivation of this book is Alice’s search for her mother, and despite Alice’s conviction that she does love her mum and will do anything to find her, I was not entirely convinced. To be honest, I was more interested in seeing the journey and not really what happened to Ella. She could have been erased from this book and I would not have blinked. I felt like Albert was very good at setting the scene and painting a beautiful story, but it lacked the emotional complexity necessary to draw me into the characters themselves.

This was actually mirrored in pretty much all of Alice’s relationships, and nowhere is it more apparent than her relationship with Finch. He seemed like a nice character, but that’s about it. I didn’t care if their romance came to any fruition or not. As I said before, however, I don’t think this book hinges vastly on relationships, and it’s a really interesting story either way. The only real gripe I had with this book is one particular scene involving police and Finch, and it comes out of nowhere and does a half-assed attempt to talk about police brutality and it did not make me a happy bunny. It felt like it was shoehorned in as an attempt to be ‘woke’ or whatever without properly addressing the issue itself, and I can’t say I was too enamoured by that idea.

Other than that, this book is one wild ride down a dark and twisted fairy-tale landscape which is especially impressive considering how saturated that market is at the moment. I actually can’t wait to read the next one but I’m not sure how she’s going to pull this off considering that it felt like it had a pretty conclusive ending. I’m even more excited about reading the actual Tales from Hinterlands.

Product Details
Hardcover, 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Language: English
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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