Goodreads: The Hazel Wood
Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic 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 Hinterland, 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.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
The Hazel Wood gives a dark twist to fairy tales in a lushly atmospheric book about what it means to create one’s own story. Seventeen-year-old Alice Prosperpine has spent her whole life longing to meet her famous grandmother, author of a cult-classic book of fairy tales. But when her grandmother dies, those tales start coming to life–and they seem to have kidnapped her mother. Only by unraveling her past can Alice restore her family. A wonderfully original tale that mixes magic with horror in an unforgettable way.
Much of the story’s strength lies in its slowly building suspense. Readers may have an idea that Alice’s grandmother’s tales are more than they appear, but Alice does not. Even as “bad luck” surrounds her and the impossible starts to happen, Alice still refuses to see what is in front of her. Only when characters literally start walking out of the stories does Alice truly start to consider what might be happening–and what she might need to do in order to get it to stop.
Even so, the bulk of story is set in the real world, with characters from nightmares flitting in and out to keep things interesting. For many readers, this part of the story may prove the most engaging. It leaves room for the imagination to paint pictures of the wonders–or horrors–that await once Alice finally manages to pass through the magic portal. The culmination of all this suspense may naturally disappoint some, who may not like how the fantasy world of the Hinterland is actually depicted.
For my part, I expected the Hinterland to be a lot more terrible and dangerous than it really is. Alice walks through mostly unscathed, and she finds a number of people who do the same. The promise of blood held out by her grandmother’s tales receives very little follow-through. But, for me, that was okay. I enjoyed the twist the story took, with the real horror being the power of words to create, shape, and destroy.
The Hazel Wood is an intriguing story, one that breaks the mold of YA fantasy and presents readers with something darkly original. While it does have a sequel, the story is satisfying–and perhaps even stronger–on its own.