The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Publication date: 08 February 2018
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Page count: 368 Pages
Rating: 3 out of 5
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
The Hazel Wood is a book that has been lurking at the back of my mind since 2017 – it’s a book that sounded absolutely perfect for me. I love a dark fairy tale, so when you throw in a New York setting and fuzz the barriers between fiction and reality it basically becomes my catnip. However, I think that my own expectations got in the way of my enjoyment of this book.
Alice has spent most of her life on the road, always one step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at her heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her isolate estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice discovers how bad her luck can really get.
Her own mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the supernatural world where the fairy tales are set. Alice’s only clue is the message left behind:
STAY AWAY FROM
THE HAZEL WOOD.
To rescue her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began…
I really loved the world building in this The Hazel Wood. The blending of realistic and fantastical settings was really well done. Even when they left New York and went to try to find the Hazel Wood itself, which is where the story itself fell apart for me, I felt that it was just so well executed. Albert’s descriptions of the settings, from the hectic city streets to the quiet forests of Upstate New York, really painted a picture for me. Her marvellous world building is one of the reasons that I bumped up my rating from two to three stars – it really won me over.
In terms of plot, the book starts out so strong. The first half was just fantastic. Albert creates an element of tension that adds a level of discomfort and tension to the narrative that I loved. I was immediately swept away by Alice and Ella’s run of bad luck and the life they settled into when it looked like they finally had the chance to settle down. It went a little off the rails after they left the city in search of the Hazel Wood. This was in part due to the plot, but I really found that the characters just fell apart.
Alice is our main character, and while I liked her I really didn’t feel like I knew her at all by the end of the book. We get her motivations and her inner thoughts, but there was just something missing from her and I’m not sure what it was. To me, she just seemed a little flat. There was a lot of potential for her to be a great character, but she fell a little short. This is particularly noticeable as the story progresses and the Hazel Wood reveals its secrets.
The other character worth mentioning is Ellery. I really loved him! It’s funny that he wasn’t a POV character, however I got a better sense of his personality and motivations than I did for Alice. Perhaps it’s that he’s just like the rest of us – he has his troubles, his ways of dealing with those troubles, and he has the nerdy obsessions that he uses to escape, namely Tales from the Hinterlands. I felt myself so much more drawn to him, or at least I did until that point where the plot fell apart. He was really the character that really suffered after this point. His actions felt jerky and bizarre, almost as though you were watching a puppet on strings. Everything I loved about him began to fade away, and it was such a shame.
I loved the twists and turns in The Hazel Wood, along with the marvellous world building and pacing. However, it really began to feel like things didn’t slot together well, as though she had this brilliant idea for a book and couldn’t quite get it down on paper the way she had it in her head. Despite this, I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
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