This is going to be one of those times where I have to put some serious effort into reigning myself in. This book. Was. Incredible.
The Hazel Wood tells the story of Alice Proserpine, the granddaughter of Althea, the infamous author of Tales from the Hinterland. All her life, Alice has known nothing but running – packing up and leaving in the dead of the night, trying to escape her perpetual bad luck. When Alice’s mom gets word that Althea has passed away, she falls under the impression that they would have finally escaped the darkness that followed them wherever they went – that Althea was the root of the strange twists and turns in their lives and now that she was gone, they would finally be safe. Things go awry for Alice, however, when she realizes that it was not her grandmother that she has been running from her whole life, but herself.
This novel brings together two very different worlds – modern day New York and the Hinterland, where Althea’s dark and twisted fairytales are set. Tales from the Hinterland features no life lessons or happy endings but rather cruel and creepy tales of gore and death that come about with no rhyme or reason. This world and its characters begin to melt into reality for Alice and her friend, Ellery Finch, when Alice’s mother goes missing and all signs point to Althea. The Hinterland comes alive piece by piece as the pair get closer to where they need to be and the sense of mystery that Melissa Albert creates along the way kept me quite literally glued to this book.
Although it wasn’t quite as dark as the blurb leads you to believe, it was just creepy enough to leave you cringing at the stories in Tales from the Hinterland and the way they slowly bleed into real life. The twisted weirdness of the second half of this novel is the kind that leaves you with your face all scrunched up and dangling the book at arm’s length, wondering what the hell you just read – but in the best way possible. This story is intricately and perfectly weaved into 400 pages of goosepimply GOODNESS.
In all honesty though, the characters didn’t do much for me. I found Alice annoying to a degree (though I suppose the annoying aspects of her personality are justified when you learn about her background) and Finch was point-blank a boring, wishy-washy character in my opinion. I couldn’t tell if he actually cared about Alice and genuinely wanted to help her or if his obsession with Tales from the Hinterland was the only thing driving him to stick by her side. As the only character of colour in this novel I felt like he lacked a certain depth and even the conversation he had with Alice regarding racism and police brutality didn’t lead to anything positive – just more maddening commentary from the main character. However, I did appreciate the fact that Albert didn’t force the romance between Alice and Finch and allowed her story to remain her own.
The creepy characters, fast-paced plot and elements of mystery woven into The Hazel Wood made this book so gripping and so exciting and just so incredible I cannot actually withhold my inner fangirl. Though this novel was so strange, everything came together perfectly at the end in that way that makes you go “oh my gosh it all makes sense”. It was unpredictable and unlike anything I have ever read before and was therefore awarded 4,5 stars out of 5 on Goodreads (by yours truly).
Thank you so much to Penguin Random House for sending me this deliciously creepy novel in exchange for an honest review!