“Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a 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 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.
To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .”
I’m not to sure how to start with this review. I found The Hazel Wood a real book of 2 halves, one half was very contemporary and not what I would have traditionally expected from a fantasy whereas the other was dark, twisted and incredibly chilling to read at times. I found that not only did I feel this way with the story but also with the characters too. I struggled immensely with the main protagonist Alice, I really couldn’t warm to her at all and given her character arc perhaps there is good reason for her being written that way. Whilst she has clearly had to build up walls from the nomadic existence she has had with her mother, I just found her very frustrating in her manner. Juxtaposed with Ellery Finch, her partner in crime of sorts, it really brings out her brattish qualities. Ellery is fabulous though and despite his privilege and flaws I just really enjoyed his character. His fanboy status in relation to the book written by Alice’s grandmother also gives us an insight into a few of the dark stories themselves, as he re-tells them to Alice in his own words.
For me the contemporary element was a bit too overwhelming, the breadcrumbs had to be laid and followed in true Hansel and Gretel style but I felt that it took a bit too long to get to where it needed to go. However, when it reached that point I really started to enjoy it more, the pace picked up and I got a sense of both excitement and dread as I was reading. The story telling becomes darker and you know you are very much in the Grimm fairy tale camp rather than Disney. Tricks and twists are plenty as Alice tries to fulfil an almost prophetic course to an ending which isn’t quite what you may be expecting.
Whilst I enjoyed it immensely in places, at times I found it a bit of a slog – I need more fantasy in my fantasy. I think it would have been lovely as well to actually have more of the “Tales from the Hinterland” stories within the book as I feel that could have really added an extra dimension to the latter part of the story. For me The Hazel Wood gets 3*