A Dark Fairytale to Start the New Year
The Hazel Wood
Flatiron Books - January 30, 2018
A dark and twisty contemporary fairytale to cozy up with this winter!
*An advanced reader ebook copy was provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
I'm super excited to share with you one of the first books I finished in 2018! Behold - The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert! This is also the first NetGalley book and review that I'll be posting. Another fun milestone as I explore the world of book reviewing and blogging. I'm looking forward to providing even more reviews and creativity via Bookish Bliss and Beauty. I think 2018 will be a fantastic year of reading and writing!
On to the book!
As some of you may know from following my Instagram account, @bookishblissandbeauty, I have a love-hate relationship with young adult fiction. I want to like so many of the books, however, lately I haven't been too enthused about new releases or I've been let down. Perhaps it's the hype around a lot of lackluster books or the fact that I'm in my mid-twenties, but I haven't been shouting from the rooftops about YA. Not that I ever really shout from rooftops, but you get my drift.
I was pleasantly surprised to be slated to receive an ARC (advanced reader copy) or a new Flatiron Books fantasy novel. Although, in all honesty, I didn't have high hopes. Fairy-tale retellings are big business lately for US publishers. I love fairy-tales and folklore, but, I have not been all that impressed with many. Sometimes it doesn't seem all that inventive. (Please persuade me I'm wrong and suggest some titles to check out!) Despite my reservations. Albert's The Hazel Wood deserves the hype in my humble opinion.
Here's a quick synopsis from the publisher:
"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."
I was intrigued from this! After reading the book, I'm quite satisfied that I can provide a positive review and recommend this.
Part eerie fairy-tale, part mystery, part story about a mother-daughter bond. For me, this novel stood out as unique. This isn't take a fairy-tale princess make her a cyborg. (If that's your thing I totally get it, but it's not mine). Rather it truly felt like a melding together of creepy Grimm brothers' stories with a contemporary protagonist. And while some aspects are clearly drawn from existing fairy-tales and folklore, it felt original and fresh. Additionally, I loved the mother-daughter bond in this book. Too many YA books are predicated on a heterosexual love story as the pinnacle of love and meaning. I get it - hormones and heteronormativity. So the fact that the love story was not a main component and instead the relationship between mother and daughter was the most important gets a round of applause from me!
Albert's writing also uses unique metaphors and imagery. I found myself vividly imagining characters and locales. This is Albert's first novel, but she's worked as a writer for other outlets. To me, it doesn't read like a debut. Rather Albert's writing suggests that she's an experienced fictional writer. Amen for that. I've seen early reviews say they did not like her writing style, or couldn't relate to the protagonist, or the descriptive writing was hard to follow. That was not my experience, but I thought I should share that as a caveat.
Though I immensely enjoyed this novel, I did have a few qualms. First, the pacing - it felt a little off to me. I actually enjoyed the slowness of the first half of the book to really set up the plot and give the reader the backstory on Alice's life up to where we meet her. After the halfway point, the pace picks up as it does in most books. I, however, would have liked to savor the world-building of the Hinterland. Albert has some really interesting world-building aspects but it felt too rushed for my taste. The novel is 368 pages and I would gladly have read another 100 pages to get a bit more out of the ending. On that note, I think the ending wrapped up a little too neatly for me. I usually am okay with however an author ends a book or series but it seemed too neat. Though I think a lot of readers will find it satisfying! Also, it may just be my interpretation, but the ending seems to leave room for spinoffs, which I am totally here for! Though it could also be an awesome one-off!
Moreover, though I really enjoyed most of the aspects of Albert's writing some metaphors missed the mark for me. (as this is an ARC I won't cite any specific ones in case they aren't in the final draft) I dislike when fantasy authors throw in odd allusions to our contemporary world. We're in a make-believe world - don't throw me off with references to websites or songs or whatever else unless it serves a purpose in the story. Is this nit-picky? I feel like I am. Ah, well. Hold your pitchforks folks!
Despite the pacing and a few irksome metaphors, I blew through this book! Though my Goodreads profile says it took me awhile too read, the total read time was probably 4 days (meaning I did my normal routines including reading). So I imagine this will be a highly consumable books for a lot of readers. I would 100% recommend this to fans of fairy-tale retellings and young adult fantasy! I look forward to seeing more books from Melissa Albert and I'm hoping to make it out to a book signing in early February!