Series: The Hazel Wood #1
on February 8th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
The Hazel Wood is a book that is a combination of quest, redemption and dark fairy tale all rolled into one. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was really good but more than that the book actually spoke to me, and I realise that probably sounds a little bit sentimental but this was about change, coming of age, discovering who you are and having the courage to alter those things that seem set in stone. It also gave me a serious case of the goosebumps that were bad enough to stop me reading late into the dark – I don’t know why, perhaps I’m just a bit of a wimp.
As the book begins we learn about Alice. Alice and her mother have been on the run for as long as she can remember. A long time ago Alice’s grandmother wrote a book of dark fairy tales that became a cult classic. Very few copies of the book can be found and although it appeared to be adored, and indeed inspired a strong following, very few people now know much about the stories. It seems like the people who read the book become somewhat obsessive and one of Alice’s earliest memories was of a man abducting her and trying to take her to her grandmother. Since then, Alice and her mother have barely kept one step ahead of the perpetual bad luck that seems to follow them around and which has, in fact, with the death of her grandmother, finally caught them up. Alice returns home from school one day to find her mother missing and against advice knows that the only place to look is her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood.
The setting is a combination of contemporary and fairytale. A good portion of the story takes place in New York where Alice and her mother have finally put down tentative roots and indeed seem to have momentarily forgotten to keep on the move. The latter chapters of the story take part in the Hazel Wood and are a riot of mixed up fairy tales that make Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland seem almost sane.
Alice comes across as a fairly hard character. She can be brutally honest, she doesn’t particularly mix well or make friends easily and in fact can be a bit difficult to get along with. However, stick with her. She’s definitely flawed and maybe not always easy to like but then a life on the run has made her develop a protective armour of snarky indifference and her character flaws become somewhat more understandable as the story unfolds.
Ellery Finch is the other main character of the story. He’s one of Alice’s classmates and, as it turns out, a strong fan of the stories penned by Alice’s grandmother, which given the obsessive nature of some of the fans, did give me a slight feeling of unease. Two things about Ellery – one good and one maybe not so much. I must admit that I really appreciate that Ms Albert didn’t make him into a romantic lead but as much as I appreciated that aspect at the same time I couldn’t help feeling that his story was a little bit contrived in terms of moving the plot forward. Given Alice’s time on the road I think it would have been more than plausible if she had managed by herself.
The plot is the real winning element of this book, and of course the lovely writing. The two together combine to make an intriguing story that you feel compelled to read. As I said above there were definitely mystery elements to this book. I needed to find out more and to be honest I would have loved to have learned more of the original fairy tales explored here as the few snippets that were on display made fascinating reading.
In terms of criticisms. I think some readers may find the start of the story, which is predominantly contemporary with a hint of creepiness thrown in, a little longer than they might wish for. Particularly so as it feels that the fantasy elements of the story only really take a hold during the latter stages of the book. I didn’t have a problem in that respect but thought I should raise the issue as some readers may be more interested in a full on fantasy read and the first half has more of a creepy mystery feel. Obviously there’s the fact that Alice can be a bit abrasive – although, again, I found her character to be understandable. So, I think the only real criticism that I can share, with the above provisos in mind, is that this is one of those stories where the main character is kept in the dark about so many things – by a number of people – and it’s actually quite annoying. For example Finch – he’s read and loved all Alice’s grandmother’s stories but does he tell Alice all about them all? No, of course not, because that would be too helpful.
Overcall, whilst there were a couple of elements that gave me pause for thought I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had me hooked to the page trying to find out more about Alice. and the mystery that surrounded her family.