When THE HAZEL WOOD came across my path, it absolutely sounded like it was my kind of book. Fairy tales, but the dark side of them, blending into reality. What wasn’t there for me to enjoy? Plus, the cover art is absolutely stunning. One hundred percent I was into this book. And I was delighted to find that it seemed to absolutely live up to every expectation I had.
…Yeah, you hear that “but” coming too, don’t you?
Alice Crewe is the granddaughter of an author, named Althea Proserpine. (I think I’m spelling that right; unfortunately I ended up reading this as a library book, and my loan’s expired.) This author is famous for having penned a book of rather dark fairy tales, and then locking herself away in her estate (the Hazel Wood) never to be seen again. Alica and her mother Ella (the fairy tale names are a bit thick here) live as nomads, never staying in one place for too long, since bad luck seems to follow them around. Alice takes this as normal…until one day, the world flips on its head and she begins to wonder what exactly her mother has been running from all this time. And perhaps more importantly, whether or not she ever should have been running. Maybe it’s about time to meet this mystery grandmother, and read the tales she wasn’t permitted to as a child.
All in all, the story is essentially predictable, but that’s not a mark against it. There are only so many plots in the world, and only so many ways you can twist it to your will. The companion Alice meets on the way, the Althea Proserpine superfan Ellery, is a welcome addition, and a nice dose of both fanboy nature and reality check for Alice, who doesn’t deal well with the former and hasn’t really experience much of the latter in her life. The Hinterland–the place where all these fairy tales take place–is a fascinating concept, and I honestly wish we got the full proper stories of all the Tales from the Hinterland. But the reasoning behind Althea’s reclusive nature and why it’s always so hard to find a copy of Tales from the Hinterland is all detailed well, and leaves the reader with a comfortable knowledge of why we can only know so much.
What really let me down about the book, unfortunately, was the ending. It takes all the wonderful beginnings we saw…and leaves half of them unanswered and the others tossed aside for reasons unknown. The choice for Ellery’s plot line equally baffles me and makes sense, though I feel like her was built up to be so much more of a character than he ended up being. The explanations of it all at the end seemed rushed, and never seemed to give a deep feeling for what was actually happening.
But here’s the kicker, and this will have mild spoilers, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know. … At the beginning of the book, it’s always the mantra of “Alice and Ella against the world.” Nothing else gets to come in, nothing stays, it’s just them. And that’s all well and good…but at the end, nothing’s changed. I mean, Alice herself certainly has, but it’s still just Alice and Ella, with no one else. Can they start finding that life to settle into and find other people? Sure, but we don’t see that far into the denouement as it were. We see mom and kid at the start, we see a thousand amazing potentials along the way, and they’re all cast off by the end. It leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth, the bitter tang of wasted development potential. While I appreciate the choice not to hold tight to the teenage love story, Ellery’s loss to the story comes just shy of making me feel like his role there was pointless. He was a tool, and when the tool was no longer needed, he was discarded. Ellery’s a better character than that. Why else were we told so much about his family? To prove he was disposable? Eh.
In any case, it’s still an enjoyable read that kept me up until close to 2 in the morning so that I could finish reading it, because I had to know how it ended. Even though it didn’t live up to everything I’d hoped for, it’s still definitely something I’d tell people to read if they found it on a shelf near them. I’d love to see what else the author has done, because she’s got a nice way with words.
Rating: **** (Recommended)