Alice and her mother Ella have spent most of their lives on the run, moving from town to town in hopes of outrunning the streak of bad luck that seems to plague them. When they receive word that Alice’s grandmother, a celebrated writer of fairy tales, has passed away, they think that perhaps their troubles are behind them. But when Alice and Ella finally begin setting down roots in New York City, Alice begins seeing visions from her past walking around the city streets. When her mother goes missing, leaving behind only a message to “Stay away from the Hazel Wood”, Alice must journey into the dark and twisted world of her grandmother’s fairy tales in order to get her mother back.
I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, this debut novel by author Melissa Albert combines lyrical prose with modern slang in a way that comes across as charming rather than jarring. I enjoyed the descriptions of twisted forests and monstrous creatures that were occasionally interrupted by references to modern technology. It was a bit like reading Alice in Wonderland if Alice had been equipped with the latest iPhone.
The basic premise of The Hazel Wood is that Alice’s grandmother stumbled upon a magical fairy tale realm known as the Hinterland. She explored the area, gathering the tales of its various creatures, and later published their stories as a book. By doing so, she unknowingly opened a gateway by which the fairy-tale characters gained the ability to cross over into our land. It is the idea of words building worlds, of something that is inherently fictional becoming increasingly solid as it feeds off the collective interest of its fans. The Hazel Wood is at its strongest when focused on this premise.
Unfortunately, it takes a frustrating amount of exposition before the reader is introduced to the fairy tale world at all. There are large sections where the novel reads more as a the mystery novel than fantasy. And it also functions as a “buddy road-trip” story, as Alice and her friend Ellery head off in search of the hidden Hazel Wood. These different elements work well in their separate spheres, but fail to come together as a cohesive unit.
I won’t comment too much on the ending of the novel, except to say that it felt very rushed and unfinished. When you read three hundred pages of a girl attempting to get to an enchanted fairy tale realm, and then spent barely fifty pages in said realm, you come away feeling a little bit cheated.
My rating: 3.5/5
Happy reading everyone!