Have you ever had expectations for a book or movie and when you finish it, you realize that it did not go at all how you planned? That’s how I feel about The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. The concept of the book—dark, creepy fairy tales coming to life—is phenomenal, but the story itself? Not so much.
Alice has spent her entire life running from bad luck. But when her grandmother—the author of a cult-classic book of fairy tales—dies, the bad luck catches up. Her mother is kidnapped by figures that claim to from the Hinterland, the dark world the fairy tales are from. Despite every warning to stay away from her grandmother’s estate known as the Hazel Wood, Alice sets out to rescue her mother and discover the world that she’s always been inexplicably linked to.
My biggest beef with this story is that the main character, Alice, is just a bad character. Her personality sucks. She’s a jerk to everybody and without sufficient reason. In addition, there is nothing that draws me to her character. I couldn’t even tell you what she looked like because the descriptions of her were non-existent. The only thing I truly know about Alice is that she is desperate to find her mother. Even later, as she learns the truth about the Hinterland, I didn’t find any revelations stunning or surprising.
I also felt like the story itself was divided into two halves: before the Hinterland and during the Hinterland. The first half is boring. Nothing significant happens. Alice runs around with Finch (a Hinterland fanboy who almost isn’t worth mentioning because his presence does nothing to the book except point Alice in the right direction), trying to figure out where the Hazel Wood actually is. But it’s just a lot of back story about Alice growing up on the road with her mother and then her own road trip to find her mother. The second half, when Alice actually finds a way into the Hinterland, felt like starting another story. The two didn’t come together.
As for the Hinterlands, it was really bizarre. I can read bizarre books. I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But this book made no sense. Whereas Lewis Carroll made nonsense into an art form—an art form that included some semblance of things that made sense like puns and a play on words and math—the Hinterlands felt like tumbling down the rabbit hole and then tumbling my way through a world that was trying too hard to be something new and yet old. It didn’t work.
Maybe it would have worked if I was familiar with the Hinterland tales, but we only get a glimpse of them. Two are somewhat told during the course of the book, but there are so many more and I feel like if the author had taken well-known stories and jumbled them up I could at least understand where it came from. For example, Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns have some semblance to known fairy tales—a glimpse of Hansel and Gretel here or the sea witch legend there. I could understand and enjoy these darker tales because I recognized them. The Tales of the Hinterland had potential but I couldn’t grasp the meaning of them because they didn’t work.
Melissa Albert definitely has a way with words, though. Her writing of descriptions was absolutely beautiful. I love the weird, creepy vibes of the Hinterland and even some of the story concepts were cool, if that had been the focus of the book instead. The pacing of the book paired with an unlikable character made the outcome of this book a disappointment. There were also a lot of unnecessary threads that never fully integrated with the rest of the story, which left me with a lot of questions and not enough answers.
Overall, the potential of this book was high. The concept is so cool, and I am insanely curious about the Hinterland world. While I didn’t quite connect with The Hazel Wood, I am interested in reading the follow-up novel, which I hope will give me some answers.
~I received a copy of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert in the February 2018 Owlcrate subscription book box. I chose to write a review of the book of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~