Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a 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 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.
To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .
Warnings: mention of self harm, violence, attempted murder
The Hazel Wood’s key point is the atmosphere it builds up. It is dark, and foreboding and doesn’t promised good endings. At first, I thought The Hazel Wood had a very gothic mystery vibe in it. There are weird people popping up and she doesn’t realize that they are creatures from the Hinterland, the land where the fairytales are set. Her friend, Ellery is her guide in all things Hinterland, and also the financier for the journey, but she considers him bothersome because he is a superfan and she has been staying away from those. As the story proceeds, it transforms from a dark paranormal mystery to a much more darker fantasy (think Uprooted).
Alice, the protagonist, is not likeable and honestly, it will turn off many people (I am guessing). She is rude, selfish and often bites people (metaphorically) who are helping her out. She is single-minded in the search for her mother, and when she arrives at The Hazel Wood, and discovers some truths, she is even more determined to free herself from the clutches of Hinterland and get back to her life with her mother. Ellery, who is along with her for the mystery of Hinterland, tries to befriend her and there is the possibility of romance between them that blooms, but the story ultimately doesn’t have romance. The love that is predominant here is the love between a mother and a daughter, and the things they will do for each other.
Interspersed in the main plot, are a couple of stories from the Hinterland collection of fairytales that her grandmother wrote, and I agree with Ellery, they are something else entirely! It combines the old Grimm style of being a ruthless story, just without the misogyny attached. The story that actually relates to the plot (I won’t say which, because it might be spoiler-y) is pretty interesting and makes us question how we view villains in stories. And I loved how the book is about stories and how stories are acted out, with a little The School for Good and Evil themes, and a little adventure but also a bit like horror. The writing is also very rich and engaging, and at many times, I wanted to slow down and savor the words instead of speeding up over descriptions like I normally do. But that also kind of breaks down the pace at times, which may not be the best thing in a story that is building up suspense with every page.
The only thing I did not like was the anti-climactic ending, which I would say was more like an epilogue because it goes, at length, into what happens next. Considering this book is going to have a sequel, I felt it was probably better to put that in the start of that rather than ruin the ending here by disrupting the flow and pace of the story.
Overall, a decadent urban fantasy many would love to sink into.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Penguin, via Netgalley.