I first heard about The Hazel Wood way back in October when Hailey in Bookland was discussing this new book she’d received an ARC of. I was immediately pulled in and knew it was exactly my sort of thing, so I was disappointed to find that I’d have to wait until February to read it. Between October and its February release, more and more reviews started to pile in and they seemed to be quite mixed, most ranging from 3-5 stars. I obviously thought, seeing as I was so drawn to it, that this didn’t matter because I would be at the top end of those reviews. Dark fairytale setting? That is EXACTLY my thing.
HOWEVER. I did not love this book. I am so so sad to say that. I mean, it wasn’t awful, it just was very disappointing. I think the magic and excitement of a fairytale world was completely missed and I ended up just trying to get to the end, when that should have been my favourite part.
The Hazel Wood is about a girl named Alice who is essentially homeless and travels around America with her mother, Ella, staying with friends and in motels etc until a run of bad luck drives them out of wherever they are staying. Alice has lived her whole life like this, until the point at which we start our story when Alice’s Grandmother dies. Althea, the grandmother, had written a book of fairytales called Tales from the Hinterland which earned her a fortune and a cult following. With that fortune she bought a massive estate, The Hazel Wood, and lived as a recluse there until the day she died. However, when Alice’s mother goes missing, she must find this mysterious estate and get to the bottom of these creepy fairytales with the help of a crazy fan of her Grandmother’s book, in order to recover her mother before it’s too late. See? It sounds pretty cool!
One of my main gripes, was simply just how much of an arsehole Alice was! I actually just wanted to slap her, I swear. The way she treated other characters, in particular Finch, who was only trying to help her the whole time, was just really crappy. I know unlikeable protagonists are a thing right now, but she wasn’t unlikeable like Jude from The Cruel Prince, who was very selfish and immature, but you want to see her grow and deal with the consequences of this. Alice was just shitty to everyone for basically no reason. Elements of this, like her anger, are explained in the book, but it still doesn’t explain why she treated people the way she did. I ended up so impartial to her that I literally didn’t care if she lived, or succeeded or got her mother back. I didn’t hate her enough to be invested, I just felt like she was a bit crap and I didn’t really care about her.
That being said, I did really enjoy the first 200 pages, all set in the real world. It was dark and creepy and had you on edge. It set up nicely to get to the fairytale world portion which occupied the last 100 pages or so. This was the part that, honestly, just bored me completely. She was just running around woods with nothing really happening to her and no real obstacles to overcome. And then she was running around a house, again, with nothing really happening. Then she ran around the woods some more. I felt like there was no strife to overcome, no obstacles, she was just going through the steps to achieve her goal and whilst it took 100 pages, there was no real excitement or antagonism. At this point I was too close to the end to DNF (I don’t like to DNF books anyway) but I was just waiting for the end to come around. I don’t think I’ve ever read the last climax of a book so slowly!
Seriously though, it’s not all bad. The writing was beautiful and I really enjoyed the snippets of the Hinterland fairytales that we got. If Melissa Albert ever wrote ‘Tales from the Hinterland’ in full, I would read the shit out of that.
To conclude, I honestly think this book had such a beautiful cover that everyone wanted to own it and read it, but the content didn’t live up to the extraordinary cover, sadly. It was okay, not absolutely awful, hence why it’s a middling 3 stars, but honestly, unless you have a burning desire to read it and hope you enjoy it more than most, I’d say it’s not really worth your time. This definitely goes down as the most disappointing read of 2018 thus far.