Book Review – The Hazel Wood (Melissa Albert)

About

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The Hazel Wood is the first book in Abert’s The Hazel Wood series. It was published in 2018 and currently holds a 3.6 on Goodreads.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic 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 Hinterland, 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.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Genres: YA / Fantasy / Fairytale

Format Used: Audiobook read by Rebecca Soler

Length: 10h 30m

My Rating: 2.5/5

My Thoughts

I came across The Hazel Wood while browsing audiobooks read by Rebecca Soler. She narrates many (if not all) of Marissa Meyer’s books, and I have taken a liking to her performances. It felt like a big win because of its fairytale meets urban fantasy designation, a cross-genre I am endlessly fascinated with. In the book, Alice’s grandmother is the infamous author of a horror-fairytale collection that has been mysteriously out-of-print for years. When her mother goes missing, Alice realizes the fairytale world her grandmother created might be real, and might be after her. To save her mother she has to delve into the cult and lore surrounding the book. Off to a great start, right? Right. Unfortunately, it eventually veered off-course.

I think the story was really fascinating. Alice is not your typical YA lead. She’s pretty rough around the edges; she smokes and cusses and has tattoos. She can also be really offensive and is perpetually rolling her eyes, which can get annoying. But, the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s book really engaged me, and I was excited to delve into the fantasy world with her. The suspense is great and it’s a while before the truth is exposed, which is a fun ride with a few twists.

The truth is pretty weird, though. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I like weird, but I didn’t love the direction the story took once the mystery was wrapped up. I realized then that it was the suspense-building that had been holding my interest. The rest felt like an extended resolution followed by an even more extended epilogue. I spent the last third of the book or so relatively bored. The world we start in and the world we end in are so starkly different, that it felt like I had been tricked into reading an entirely different story… and that story was basically Alice in Wonderland with contemporary references.

I personally would have liked it better if the world-swap had come sooner, and if the mystery of it all was spread out a little more evenly. It also would have been nice to know earlier on that this would essentially become an Alice in Wonderland retelling. Points for haunting imagery in the Hinterland, though. I wish I had more time to enjoy that part. Maybe the second book does this better.

Selected Quote

Life never turns out how you imagine it will when you’re young. Everything is smaller than you think, or too big. It all smells a little funny and fits like somebody else’s shirt.

Who Might Like It

I recommend this book for: Alice in Wonderland fans and fans of hyperbolic prose, and for people who are interested in melding contemporary worlds and fairy tale worlds

I don’t recommend this book for: People looking for hardcore fantasy and extensive world-building

Rating

I have implemented a standard rating system to my book reviews:

1 – Story, plot and character development are all poor

2 – Concept is intriguing but execution is sloppy or does not deliver on promises

3 – Story, plot and/or character are interesting but some aspects of the book are problematic and/or not fully developed

4 – Strong story, plot and character development but has little-to-no thoughtful commentary

5 – Strong story, plot and character development along with thoughtful commentary

I give this book a 2.5. It was a pretty neat concept, a little out there, but with potential. I even enjoyed the first bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like Albert delivered on the expectations the first half of the book set up.

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