Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Hazel Wood”

A few posts ago, I wrote about my foray to Washington, D.C.’s East City Bookshop, and my happy surprise when I found that the book I’d purchased was a signed copy.

But that wasn’t the end of the surprises associated with Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood.

I didn’t know much about Albert’s novel prior to picking it up. But it came highly recommended by my friend/book guru Courtney. And I knew the story centered around a mysterious book (à  la The Shadow of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite novels for its book-within-a-book theme). Those twin enticements were good enough to compel me to grab The Hazel Wood.

And I’m 99% glad I took that step of faith. (I’ll circle back to that missing 1% shortly.)

The Hazel Wood follows Alice, granddaughter to Althea Proserpine, the reclusive author of a deeply dark collection of fairytales called Tales from the Hinterland. Alice and her mother Ella have spent years running from the bad luck ceaselessly snapping at their heels. But when Ella is snatched by figures claiming to be from the Hinterland, Alice’s luck goes from bad to bleak. Her search for her mother unleashes things that do far worse than go bump in the night.

Now, I certainly can’t claim encyclopedic knowledge of Young Adult or fairytale-inspired fiction. But The Hazel Wood struck me as highly unique. It was atmospheric and dark. Unpredictable and twisty. The writing struck that pitch-perfect note of magical realism and sharp imagery I’m so envious of in other authors. Albert also does an excellent job of providing the reader with enough information about events and characters for the story to hang together… while leaving enough veiled to lend the book a truly creepy vibe (not unlike what Hitchcock does in The Birds by never explaining why the winged beasties go berserk).

Additionally, Albert weaves a few of the stories from Tales from the Hinterland, the book-within-the-book, into The Hazel Wood. These tales live up to the unnerving rap attributed to them and imbue The Hazel Wood with a real sense of menace. They also left me hungering to get my hands on an actual copy of Tales. I was delighted to learn that since The Hazel Wood‘s publication, Albert has signed a new 2-book contract–one book being a sequel to The Hazel Wood and the other a full version ofTales from the Hinterland (eek!).

On a related level, Hazel Wood raises some interesting notions about the power of story and its impact upon characters. I don’t want to get too spoiler-y, so I’ll only say that some of Hazel Wood‘s themes were a bit unnerving for me as an aspiring novelist… even though The Hazel Wood is, of course, only a book.

Or is it? 😳

(Cue spooky music)

Now, back to that 1%. I know some folks took issue with Alice as a protagonist. She is rather knife-edged, but considering her early life on the run and other tidbits the reader learns along the way, I actually found Alice’s acerbity fitting. No, my not-quite-satisfied issue comes in at the late stage of page 344 of 355. For all the dark promise of the book, the end just felt a little… meh. A little soft. A little rushed, perhaps. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll snap up Albert’s forthcoming books like *that* (snaps fingers). Hazel Wood was a captivating read I greedily devoured and I’m excited to see what’s next. But the ending wasn’t quite as haunting as I’d hoped.

If you’ve read it, do you agree? Or do you have a different spin? Sound off in the comments below!

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