So, I’m having a terrible time with my highly anticipated books of 2018. I 100% bought into the hype around this book (AND The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, but that’s a whole other story…). It seemed exactly like the kind of book I would really enjoy.
-Dark Fairy Tales? Check
-Magic Adjacent to Reality? Yup
-A Contemporary Portal Fantasy? Ooo sounds promising.
But it turns out that, well, it wasn’t so good, or maybe it’s not that it wasn’t so good as it’s that I am definitely the wrong reader for this book.
Synopsis: 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.
Loose Thoughts and Half-Formed Opinions: See, this book seems like it would be great, but the execution wasn’t there for me. So here are just a few things worth mentioning.
Alice: She’s not nice, in fact, she’s downright unlikeable… and that’s well… that’s important. Now don’t get me wrong, I looooooooooove an unlikeable character. Characters who are crafted carefully and consciously to be unlikeable in compelling ways are kind of my jam. But Alice starts off as being mean, and just unreasonably rude FOR NO REASON. She doesn’t like a customer at the cafe she works at because… he talks to her? Like she has a serious rage moment because an awkward dude customer had the audacity to make chit-chat while he bought something from her. Okay… see he didn’t do anything weird, or gross, or ANYTHING that crossed the line, he just dared to exist in the same space as Alice for a few minutes… cool. So after such an inauspicious start to her development, I cared approximately zero for her, which is not the best way for me to start off on new series of books.
Althea: Basically, I wanted more of Alice’s kind of creepy, grandmother, I wanted her to factor more deeply into the story, or maybe I wanted more backstory… I don’t know. She seemed like a character I definitely could have gotten behind. The one scene she is in is super creepy and atmospheric. I’d be down for a prequel about her. Secondarily, Althea’s stories (or Stories) are really interesting and something that Albert is apparently fleshing out into a Tales of the Hinterland companion book… so, cool, I guess.
The Twist: Ugh… this bitch is telegraphed from pretty much the beginning of the book. If you’re a super sleuth like I am, pay attention to the way hair is described, and the answer will slap you in the face.
The Real World/Portal Split: Lovers of portal fantasies and lovers of urban fantasy will have exactly the same feelings toward this book. There’s not enough what you like. If you like wonderlands, there’s not enough and it takes too long to get there. And if you like real worlds with unsettling eruptions of magic (This is ME) then that section ends too soon. It just doesn’t spend enough time in either place to be truly satisfying for anyone on either side of the fence.
The Verdict: Despite my dislike for Alice, I actually really enjoyed the first half of this book. All of Ella and Alice’s bad luck stuff, the generally creepy atmosphere surrounding Althea’s cultish following, the stuff that took place in New York City, and Finch, were all great. But once she gets to the Hinterlands, I really stopped caring and wanted the book to be over. I know, apparently, I missed the entire point of the book. I do have a reason.
The first half of this book reminded of a much better book.
The first half of The Hazel Wood gave me the feeling that is was going to be a YA take on my favorite mindf*ck of a book, Night Film by Marisha Pessl. It had the same creepy, cultish, menacing otherworldly vibe that practically oozes out of Night Film. I would totally believe it if someone told me that Albert had read it or was inspired by it. The problem, for me anyway, is that the “real world” was set up in such a way that was incompatible to the type of story she was ultimately telling… see I have been told this isn’t so much a her problem as it is a me problem. I wanted it to be something other than what it was, and thus it disappointed me.