“Tell Alice to stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood.” That’s Ella Proserpine’s message to her daughter while she’s being kidnapped by nasty characters from a fairy tale. Naturally, Alice heads straight for the Hazel Wood to find her mom. It’s way weirder there than even I expected.
Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 4 stars
Writing: 4 stars
Overall: 4 1/2 stars
The Hazel Wood is Melisa Albert’s first novel, and I’m extremely signed up to read whatever she puts out in the future. Think a grown-up Inkheart (my fav) but with Holly Black’s gritty teenage heroines and only the most brutal fairy tales from Andersen and Grimm. If your response that that particular literary cocktail is hell yes, you’ll love The Hazel Wood. If, instead, it’s that sounds like a bit much and also I’m not too great at suspending my disbelief for hundreds of pages, then I advise you to look elsewhere, because this book is indeed A Bit Much.
(Quick side note: I fell hard for the cover and the title alone. W.B. Yeats quotes are the key to my affections.)
The story starts with Alice Proserpine and her mom tentatively setting into a life in Manhattan after a lifetime of being on the run. Bad luck follows them wherever they go, ever since Alice can remember. The dark cloud that seeks them out seems to be connected with Ella’s mother, Althea Proserpine, the famously reclusive author whose book of stories Tales From The Hinterland has gained a cult following despite the near impossibility of tracking down a copy. The red-haired man who briefly kidnapped Alice when she was a little girl was one such devotee. Ellery Finch, the adorable and intense boy from school who wants to be part of Alice’s story, is another. Ellery craves the dark inevitability of Althea’s fairy tales, the magic that defies common sense but still follows rules of its own.
I adored the young lad, even though I knew from the beginning that his enthusiasm would lead him astray. Alice starts out less convinced. But when Ella disappears she needs his help to track down a copy of the book and find The Hazel Wood, the un-mappable estate where Althea Proserpine hid away from the world to write and smoke and be mysteriously glamorous.
Ellery Finch and Alice Proserpine throw their lots in together, for better or horrifyingly worse, and find their way to a fairy tale forest. The Hazel Wood and the Hinterland beyond are built entirely on story, with the tales from Althea’s book holding the world together, playing out for eternity while “refugees,” or other people who found their way in, make lives for themselves in the space that’s left over.
I can’t share too many of my feelings about this book without spoiling the many twists, but in short, here’s why I liked it: Complex mother-daughter relationships! Magnetic and selfish lady-authors who will do anything for a story! Super angry teenage girls who are trying to control their rage! A reference to Boy Snow Bird! Love stories that don’t work out at all! Road trips! Original fairy tales that feel like classics!
I think that’s what I liked the most about The Hazel Wood: Melissa Albert clearly loves fairy tales, particularly the creepy ones, and she damn well knows how to write one. I want to read Tales From The Hinterland now, even if it means I might become dangerously obsessed.