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Review: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

I received a copy from Netgalley.


This is one of those strange conflicting books where I loved the premise, I loved the writing, the story but I hated the main character. Frankly, Alice was a giant bitch. (Narrative did reveal REASONS for her behavior but still.)


Alice has spent most of her life on the road with her mother, whom she refers to by name, Ella, rather than call her Mom. Bad luck seems to follow them where ever they go. They start settling down, things go wrong and they have to leave. Because of this Alice is never in one place for long so never really makes any friends or forms attachments to people. Which must be difficult but its the life she’s used to so it’s sort of understandable that she’d be cold and standoffish. 


She has an attitude right off. She lives under the shadow of her reclusive grandmother whom she’s never met, the author of a book of very dark fairy tales. The fairy tale book seems to have a sort of cult following. There is very little information about the grandmother. At the start of the novel Ella has received a letter telling her that the grandmother Althea, has died and she has inherited her estate, the mysterious Hazel Wood. Which she wants nothing to do with. 


The writing is quite dark and lyrical, the abysmal characters give the whole thing a dark murky feel to the story, when Alice starts looking into the grandmother and the book of fairytales, it fits as it turns out the stories are very dark. The book is now out of print and hard to find. Alice makes a connection with a boy at her latest school, Ellery Finch who has an interest in the fairytale book. Ella’s latest boyfriend is a very very rich older man with a daughter Alice’s age, so she and Alice attend a private school for very rich kids. Finch, is one of the wealthiest students there. 


Of all the characters in this book, Finch is probably the nicest and was one of my favorites. He offers Alice a tentative friendship and is nothing like the stereotypical rich boy you get at private schools. He’s kind of a nerd and adorable. 


Alice’s world is thrown into chaos when she goes home one afternoon to find her mother missing and her mother’s boyfriend in a fury after himself, his daughter and Ella were kidnapped. The two were let go, and he’s naturally furious. More for scared for himself and his daughter than Ella it would appear. The only clue Alice has is something to do with being told to stay AWAY from the Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s mysterious estate.


Of course, with a bitchy teenager who is told not to go somewhere - it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going to happen. Alice completely ignores the warning and freaks. She finds herself calling on Finch to help her, since he’s apparently read the fairytale book. He’s got involved with the people looking for the estate. Finch is the only person willing to help. Alice is freaking and she’s really being nasty to him. Yet almost reluctantly seems to resign herself to the fact she needs Finch and the help he is offering. Her nasty attitude during these bits made me constantly want to slap Alice. I really did not like her at all.


Though this is where the fairytale darkness seeps into the novel and it seems that reality is mixing in with the world of the mysterious tome written by her grandmother, a strange fairyland called The Hinterland. Is this really happening or is it the influence of the Hinterland?


Things get stranger and scarier as Alice and Finch investigate, ignoring all warnings to stay the hell away. Alice can’t do it. The more she digs, the more questions she finds with no answers. Despite the unlikeable characters, there is something very compelling about the darkness of the mystery as it unfolds.


I won’t recap much more because there would be some serious spoilers but things get weirder by the minute and finally, things start happening and answers start coming. There were a few twists before the final revelations.


Some misgivings, but definitely worth a read. It’s somewhere between a fantasy and a mystery. Vivid and quite dark and sometimes dreary. At the same time it has a way of making you want to know what the hell is going on. It’s definitely very original.  And that book of disturbing fairytales sounds like something this reader would be dying to get their hands on. And according to Goodreads it looks like there will be a sequel (though I can’t imagine where the sequel will go) and the fairytale book from the first book will actually be written. I am certainly very intrigued to go. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s for approving my request to view the title.