Book: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Published By: Penguin Random House
Expected Publication: 8th February (whoops!)
Thanks to Penguin and Netgalley for allowing me a free copy of this book, it in no way influenced my opinion of it.
The Hazel Wood was definitely one of the most hyped fantasy YA debuts coming into 2018, so naturally I was very excited to read it, as it promised a darker take on the traditional fairytale (very Jo) and my friend Hannah had read the ARC she got from YALC and loved it and we usually have very similar reading tastes. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I was hoping to, I found it slow paced and confusing, and not really what I was expecting at all. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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 . . .
My major problem with this book was the pacing. The first 200 odd pages of this book was so slow! It was all set up and road-tripping and just generally quite dull. I mean I’m a fantasy reader, so I have a stronger tolerance for a “journey story” than most, but I reckon if you’d cut out most of the road trip aspects of this book, you would have had a much more streamlined, faster paced, more enjoyable story.The chapters were overly long and because it took so long to get to the Hinterland part of the story, the climax was rushed. It took me well over a month to finish this and I kept dipping in and out because I wasn’t really that engaged. I think I was also a bit jarred that the book spent so long in the modern world, I was kind of expecting them to be in the Hinterland pretty much from the start and I found all of the contemporary aspects of the story pretty boring. It also meant the book felt a little disjointed, it didn’t feel like the whole thing flowed as one story. The book reads more as a YA contemporary with fantastical aspects than a straight up fantasy, which would have been fine if that had been what I was expecting.
I wasn’t overly keen on Albert’s writing? She relies on a very flowery style of prose, that I have always hated, I prefer it when authors say what they want to say without too much flowery description. I mean it fitted with the style of the book that she was writing, but just for me, personally, I didn’t like it.
I wasn’t all that keen on our main character Alice, she’s rude and angry and bitter and I just found it quite difficult to root for her most of the time (her saving grace was that she really cared about her mum) and even when the reasons for her behaviour were explained, that didn’t really change the fact that she annoyed me for a decent portion of the book, which is not really what you want from a main character of any book. The only thing I could relate to her on was the fact that she disliked people touching her hair, a trait we share!
The other major character was Finch, and I wasn’t really sure about him either. I should relate to a super-obsessed fan boy, being a fangirl myself, but it felt like that was his only real trait, as a character, he felt kind of flat to me, he felt like a token POC rather than a well developed character. I also felt like Ella should have had more of a role, since parents are so hard to find in YA fantasies, the author should have made more of her, because we only really get to hear from Alice how much she loves her mum, we don’t really get to see much of their relationship. There’s also a bit where they get pulled over by the police and Alice is really rude, Finch tries to explain to her the relationship between black people and the police and why what she did could have been dangerous for him, but she just brushed him off, which I didn’t love. She also has a tendency to be a bit abusive towards Finch, which again, not okay.
I loved the little tales from the Hinterland, in fact, had this been a collection of short stories from the Hinterland, I probably would have enjoyed it more, because they had the darkness, the creepiness that I was expecting from this book. I’ve found out that the author is planning on doing these, so I will definitely be reading that book, even if I didn’t love this one!
There are kind of hints of romance, but nothing major which I liked because I don’t think they really would have fitted in this book.
I did like the parts of the book where Alice was in the Hinterland, but I also found myself kind of confused. I didn’t feel like the author explained things very well and for the most part, I felt confused and disoriented and couldn’t really understand what was going on. I felt like the explanation for everything was like “it’s a fairytale” but if you are creating a fantasy world, even if it is fairytale inspired, it should have clearly defined rules. I would have liked it if we got to spend more time in the Hinterland and really got to know it, because it was a really interesting concept but never properly explained.
There were a few twists, none of which I predicted, but I will say that some worked better than others, the main one was pleasing and explained a lot of things that had been confusing me, but some of the others were not so good.
The climax of the story was really unsatisfying and I felt like it relied on a lot of Deus Ex Machina to make it work, which is never a good sign, it didn’t feel earned, which was a shame.
I was also kind of expecting it to be darker? Like there were some dark moments, but for a supposedly dark fantasy, it was a little light for me and the creepy aspect wasn’t played up as much as I would have liked.
I don’t really understand why there’s going to be a sequel as the book doesn’t really seem to lend itself to one, it works fine as a standalone.
There were quite a lot of pop culture references, some of which landed better than others, the “Janet” Good Place reference in the Hinterland was a particularly favourite, but it felt like the author kind of relied a little too much on obscure pop culture references.
Overall, this book had a lot of potential, but I feel like it didn’t deliver. I loved the Hinterland and the fairytale stories we got peppered through the book, but the characters and the pacing really let the book down. I feel like had the book embraced the fantasy elements more, it would have been a lot better and whilst I’m looking forward to the Tales From The Hinterland collection, I won’t be reading the sequel to this.
My Rating: 3/5
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-I did have to search the book pretty hard for this, it’s not the best when it comes to named female characters interacting with each other, as it’s mostly Finch and Alice interacting during the book, but there are conversations between Janet, Ingrid and Alice and Audrey and Alice at the end that means this book squeaks past the test.
My next review will be of the final book in Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of The Sands trilogy, Hero At The Fall.