My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow this book was good. So dark and creepy and just wonderfully well written. I found myself becoming lost in the story which considering how tired and stressed I was while reading it was pretty impressive.
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 . . .
I have to admit that while I initially had high hopes for this book, I did see some negative reviews that put a little bit of doubt in my mind. Thankfully though this book was right up my street. I am a huge fan of retellings and all things fairy tale and this, while not really being a retelling, certainly has the feel of one albeit a very dark and creepy one.
This is a story about stories where the lines between the real and the imagined become decidedly blurred. It’s a little confusing and frustrating at times and occasionally nonsensical but there’s so much mystery and so many twists that it’s difficult to put down. The world the author builds is incredible and draws you in so completely that it feels real. It’s dark and disturbing pretty much all of the time and I found myself getting genuine chill in places.
I’m not going to say much about the story as I think you really need to read it for yourself but essentially it’s a voyage of discovery for Alice as she tries to find her mother after she suddenly disappears. She uncovers a link to her recently deceased grandmother’s collection of dark fairy tales and has to find her way first to her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood and then to the place that inspired her stories. She’s pretty much on her own with no other family and no money or resources so has to rely on a boy from school to help her but he seems a little too excited about going to the Hazel Wood.
The story is told entirely from Alice’s point of view and she is very much the focus of this story. There are other characters but they generally appear briefly, play their part and then move on. I’m not sure I would necessarily say I liked Alice but I’m not sure you’re supposed to. She’s cold, sharp and angry and not very nice but I did admire her determination and liked how the author developed her over the course of the story.
It was though, the other characters who left more of an impression on me despite only their relatively brief appearances in the story. They tended to the eccentric, with erratic sometimes violent behavior and talking in riddles (this is where it goes a little Alice in Wonderland). It’s rarely clear whether they are there to help Alice, are playing with her or using her for their own ends. I can understand some may find them frustrating and annoying but I just loved the mystery around it and found myself wanting more of them. There were a couple of characters in particular who I really wish we’d gotten to understand more about but if I’d gotten everything I wanted the book would probably be twice as long.
The one problem I will say I found with the characters however is that I thought the relationships between them were a little lacking. There just isn’t enough time spent fully developing them and consequently I didn’t feel their connection to each other. The relationship between Alice and her mother for example is key to the story, the whole plot is Alice trying to find her, but because her mother only appears briefly I didn’t feel any closeness. We have to rely on Alice’s assertions of how much her mother means to her which for me is not the same as showing it. Similarly the relationship between Alice and the boy who’s helping her just felt a little odd and uncomfortable. That may be intentional but even by the end there was something incomplete about it.
That being said though I did love the story. It drew me in completely, so much so that I almost missed my stop on the train. I especially loved the dark fairy tales that are told as part of the story and would really love it if the author wrote the whole complete collection at some point. Almost every story is left unfinished or interrupted and they were just so creepy and dark that I want to know how they end.
Overall, despite a few niggles over the relationships I have to say I really loved this story. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and fairy tales with a dark twist.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.
The Hazel Wood is due to be published on 30th January in the US and 8th February in the UK.