Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: YA, fantasy, mystery
Format: print ARC
Release Date: January 30th, 2018
Synopsis: 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.
It’s with a very heavy heart that I write this review. The Hazel Wood was easily one of my top five anticipated 2018 releases, I was ecstatic when I scored an ARC from B&N Teen Fest this year (I may have even persuaded a young child to trade me for it, shhhh). Unfortunately, it just was not at all what I expected.
But before I jump into the disappointments of this book, let’s start with the aspects I did enjoy! I decided to rate this a solid three stars, because it’s really one of those half-good-half-bad kind of books. First off, I loved the writing! Anyone that’s read even the first chapter of The Hazel Wood can’t deny that Melissa Albert has a way with words. Her descriptions and metaphors are absolutely gorgeous, and I strive to be able to write like her one day.
However, the writing is somewhat of a double-edged sword. While it was beautiful to read line-by-line, it really slows down the pacing of the book. It’s fine for the beginning, when the story is still simmering, but when the action begins in the second half, I got very tired of reading one flowery description after another. It was overkill, and left me incredibly bored during the middle of the book.
Continuing with the positives, though, I loved the general aesthetic of this story. If I had any ability to create a cool mood board, I definitely would for this book. It’s filled with mysterious woods, creepy fairy tale characters, and midnight road trips in the loneliest part of town. So if that sounds like your taste, you might really love it!
Ellery Finch, sidekick extraordinaire, is such an adorable character. His dialogue is hilarious and fun, I wish he had been the main narrator. I also loved Alice’s relationship with her mother! No one’s really talking about it, but I found their relationship to be the heart and soul of this story.
The mystery and suspense that make up the first half of the novel, are pretty well done. I enjoyed the sudden quest Alice is thrown into to find her mother, with only a cryptic message and three mysterious objects to guide her.
Here’s where my review gets tough to write, because the second half of the book is spoilers-galore. But I’m going to do my best, and leave anything super revealing towards the end. There will be warnings!
At the start of the second half, the book finally starts to feel like a fantasy. I raced through this section of the book and devoured it.
*Spoiler Alert* Alice enters the Hinterland, a weird and twisted world of fairy tale characters and altered realities. I really enjoyed this section of the book, it’s what I originally thought the entire book would be like! So for that reason, I just needed way, WAY more of it. If the majority of the book had been set in the Hinterland, it likely would’ve met all my expectations. *End of spoilers*
My number one issue with this book: the marketing is extremely misleading. I was under the impression that this is a solid fantasy novel. It’s not. The Hazel Wood reads much more like a mystery/suspense book with elements of the supernatural thrown in. At best, you could classify it as an urban fantasy. So my biggest warning if you choose to read this book is to be aware of its real genre!
And my second biggest issue: Alice is honestly a jerk (at least at certain points). She comes off as sarcastic and rude, but not in the fun, snarky way that we love from our YA characters. Alice is just plain mean to Finch at a few parts of the book, and very unlikable altogether. There is a reason provided for this at the end, but it didn’t make up for the fact that I strongly disliked Alice for 90% of the book.
Alice and Finch’s relationship is very … strange. I couldn’t get a good grasp on it. Mostly, they appear as good friends that rely on each other for a lot. But there are undoubtedly deliberate hints at romance throughout the book. Yet all they do is fight a majority of the time? If it was supposed to come across as romantic tension, it really didn’t work.
*Spoiler Alert* I assumed that by the end, they’d probably be together. But this wasn’t at all the case! With something like 10 pages left in the book, Finch suddenly announces he’s found some other unnamed girl in the Hinterland that he’s in a relationship with/smitten on. It was so random. So out of place. And just left me feeling lost in trying to understand how Finch and Alice feel toward each other. *End of spoilers*
The ending as a whole is anticlimactic. The entire book is built up to finding Alice’s mother, yet that goal is quickly forgotten once Alice discovers another secret about herself. To be fair, that particular plot twist is actually pretty good, and helped save the book for me! There are also a few other reveals that were fun and surprising.
*Major Spoiler Alert* However, once Alice is freed from the Hinterland, she simply returns home. And, oh joy! There’s her mother! Alive and well! Conveniently right where she needed to be all along. After spending an entire novel on a wild goose chase through fairyland to find this woman, you can imagine how I felt like the book became pointless. To top it off, Finch goes off into the Hinterland sunset, never to be heard of again. And somehow I’m supposed to feel satisfied by all this. *End of spoilers*
Overall, this book just needed more of the fantasy elements that were in the second half. Arguably the best parts of the book were the few Hinterland fairy tales we actually get to read. I think I would’ve preferred to read a short story collection of these tales, like The Language of Thorns.