Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

by Gurpreet Sihat

When my FairyLoot reading buddy asked me what I thought of February’s book, The Hazel Woodby Melissa Albert, I found myself unable to give a straight answer. Even now, as I sit here trying to put my thoughts in order, I can’t entirely decide on what star rating I would give it. It was a good read, there’s no doubt about that, and I was most definitely intrigued by the plot, but I realise that this is the first book this year I’ve easily put down after the end of a reading session.

A lot of YA novels have a fairy tale backbone – take Ella Enchanted, Beastlyand A Court of Thorns and Roses, as examples – but Albert, in her debut novel, blends together fairy tales in a unique way that combines fantasy with thriller and horror. For me, the concept was the perfect mix of Angela Carter and Cornelia Funke.

The narrative follows seventeen-year-old Alice Crewe. Plagued by bad luck, Alice and her mother, Ella, flit from place to place, adapting to new cities, new jobs and new lives every few months. While residing in New York, however, mother and daughter find their bad luck catching up to them. First, they receive a letter that announces the death of Alice’s grandmother, the recluse dark fairy tale writer, Althea Proserpine, and then Ella is kidnapped.

The connection? The Hazel Wood.

Not only is the Hazel Wood Althea’s house, hidden away God knows where, but it also happens to be a doorway to the Hinterland, a cruel fairy tale land in which Althea’s stories are all set. With no other option, Alice teams up with Ellery Finch, one of her grandmother’s super-fans, and leaves yet another life behind in order to search for her mother and the infamous abode.

Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? So why was is so easy for me to put down at the end of each reading session instead of convincing myself that one more hour of reading, despite the fact that the sun is rising outside my window, is a good idea.

The answer is simple: the pacing.

It takes eight chapters for Ella’s kidnapping to occur but, from that point on, each new twist and turn is so hurried, fleeting, that they feel underdeveloped. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the characters. Albert weaves in the tales of Twice-Killed Katherine and Alice-Three-Times, characters from the Hinterland, but none of the rest of the cast had their stories told. Not even the Briar King, who I so desperately wanted to know more about. By the end of the novel, you feel as though you’ve read an incomplete story. She has announced that she’s going to be writing Tales from the Hinterland (the book Althea Proserpine writes in the novel), to be released in 2019, so hopefully at least this latter drawback will be addressed.

Despite everything, the twists are great, the concept brilliant and the characters interesting. I wish I could expand on that, to tell you exactly what it is that made this book as enjoyable as it was, but to say anything would to give away spoiler after spoiler. I did enjoy The Hazel Wood, I just wish it had been longer and more fleshed out. And onto my list of Authors-To-Keep-An-Eye-Out-For Melissa Albert goes!

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