Reviewing: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

I finished this book in three days. I feel like I should begin the review with that because, for someone who loves to read, I’m often not the fastest at it. The Hazel Wood is a delightfully dark, complex, unwinding story that traverses the modern world and the concept of fairy tale stories too frightening for Disney to show to adults, never mind children – and I adore it. A novel in two parts, it follows Alice Proserpine and her mother Ella as they travel constantly, attempting to outrun the bad luck that seems to follow them wherever they go. Alice is ever conscious of the absence of her grandmother Althea, a mysterious author whose one publication made her famous before a series of family tragedies led her to close herself and her daughter away in her estate – The Hazel Wood – for years. Conscious of their transient lifestyle and curious as to why their luck always seems to run out too soon, Alice manages to push aside obsession with her past, her origins and her mysterious reclusive grandmother, until after news her mother thinks will end their suffering, The Hazel Wood finds them again.

This is a novel that deals with obsession – Althea Proserpine’s fans are eager to the point of mania, desperate to find anything out about the author they idolise or the book they discovered, so rare no amount of money can conjure up a copy. Her mother’s resistance to so much as acknowledge the existence of Althea Proserpine, her works or her isolated home drive Alice to a near-obsessive search of her own for the grandmother she has never known and the secrets that frighten her mother so much. It also deals with stories as things separate from their authors, things that repeat themselves again and again with every telling – those characters within them forever repeating the same actions, mistakes and grisly ends as their stories are told. The Tales from the Hinterland, Althea’s collection of dark and dangerous fairy tales, live on in the minds of those who find them and fester, growing into something living that refuses to be forgotten and latches itself onto the world. These tales of kings, queens, princesses and villains are punctuated by violent acts, bloody deaths, revenge and hate and neglect in the way fairy tales began. There are no happy endings in the Hinterland, and very few happy beginnings or middles.

I’m a big fan of urban fantasy, and the mix of everyday life and these strange and frightening stories was really well done. I want to read their stories, I want to know about Twice-Killed Katherine and her bird cage – I just don’t want her showing up at my doorstep and stealing my youth. Or whatever it was she did. Honestly it wasn’t 100% clear but it was terrifying whatever it was. Albert managed really well this sense of inevitability, of being followed and being unable to escape. Who do you call for help when you’re being chased by things that shouldn’t exist in a world that fails to see the monsters for what they are? I love the idea of a writer creating a world that gets away from them, that grows to unruly and free-thinking to be confined to its own narrative. This is a novel of books and doors between worlds and sometimes those things are one and the same.

I did think at one point that it would slip into that classic YA ‘boy meets girl and they go on adventure and fall in love’ trope that all who know me will know I am not a fan of. It doesn’t. Boy does meet girl, and there is an adventure, but stick with it. You might be surprised.

This is a book that deals with lots of things, in traditional fairy tale form it deals quite closely with parental neglect and family in general – go on, name one fairy tale that has a happy, functional family, I’ll wait – and how far people can be pushed to help the people they love in a world full of terrifying stories that refuse to end when the book is closed.

I do have questions, however.

– What was Ella’s husband told that made him hate her so much so quickly?

– Who the hell is the Briar king?

– How did Alice-Three-Times end?

– Who was the taxi driver?

– How the hell did that photo get there?

These are, of course, answers I didn’t need to know to enjoy the book, and a certain level of mystery is a wonderful thing. I just love a bit of backstory, and let’s be real I’d absolutely be one of the crazy Hinterland fans if I got my hands on that book. Who knows, maybe there’ll be another one?

After all, if there’s one thing this book establishes, it’s that a story won’t necessarily end when you thought it should.

Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of5

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