Alice’s reclusive grandmother is the renowned writer of Tales from the Hinterland, a book of dark fairy tales, but Alice has never really known her. Instead, she has spent most of her life on the road with her mother, running from bad luck which always seems to find them whenever they try to settle down. When her mother is snatched by unsavoury characters from the Hinterland, Alice must delve into the fantastical world of her grandmother’s stories in an attempt to break the curse of bad luck for good.
I found The Hazel Wood to be a fun, fast-paced read. Protagonist Alice isn’t the most likeable; she’s got an incredibly fiery temper and, to be honest, is often just a dick for the sake of being a dick. But all is explained within the story, so it’s possible to forgive her for it. In any case, it’s refreshing to have a main character that isn’t an instant heroine who can do no wrong.
Alice’s sidekick is Finch, a rich hipster who is obsessed with Alice’s grandmother and keen to be a part of the adventure to the Hinterland. He has a gloomy history which is at odds with his outwardly cheerful persona, and while this is eked out as the story progresses, I felt like there was more to learn about him. Alice and Finch make a good team; she’s fiercely independent, but relies on Finch for his wealth of knowledge on Tales from the Hinterland and they soon find themselves leaning on one another for emotional support. Sadly, Finch is cut out of Alice’s adventure far too soon for my liking. He offset her impulsive, aggressive nature nicely and, like I say, I would’ve like to have delved deeper into his story.
Although set initially in New York, the story winds its way into remote woodlands and then into magical fairy tale forests. It was the latter that I loved the most. I think Melissa Albert did a great job of portraying the wonderful world of the Hinterland, which was enchanting and sinister in equal measures. She sets scenes vividly and depicts fairy tale characters vibrantly; I felt completely swept up in the world. My only complaint is that there isn’t enough of the Hinterland. We reach it late on in the story and all of sudden we’re at the climax and resolution. I felt that the story was finished too quickly, although that could simply be because I was reading so voraciously to learn of Alice’s fate.
Overall, The Hazel Wood was a good one; grittier than so many YA fantasies which is a big plus in my book, and a lovely read if you’re looking for pure escape from our dreary old world.