Weird, unpredictable, and totally offbeat.
Alice Proserpine and her mother are used to a transient life, running from the trail of terrible accidents that seem to follow them. When Alice’s grandmother–a mysterious author of a disturbing book called Tales from the Hinterland–dies at her hidden estate, their bad luck seems to disappear. But Alice is horrified when she comes home to find her mother kidnapped by a Hinterland character, with only one clue left behind.
Alice must team up with a peculiar friend, whose obsession with the Hinterland may make him untrustworthy, and journey to the most elusive place to save her mother: The Hazel Wood, her dead grandmother’s estate.
Quality of Story: 5/5
A novel about a fictional collection of fantasy stories, The Hazel Wood was a fresh and original fairy tale. Melissa Albert transported me effortlessly in Alice’s quest, where the motivations, events, and character choices were all believable. Woven-in twists cinched up any and all plot holes. Only the end of the novel presented irresolution, but how else should Albert prep a sequel?
Quality of Characters: 5/5
Alice kicks butt. I’m a fan of brave heroines, particularly consistent, creative ones, and what makes her special is her anger. She shows its usefulness and attractiveness in a woman.
Then Ellery Finch, Alice’s partner in (solving) crime, gives a poignant example of what it means to destroy stereotypes. The surface-level reader would label him a rich nerd. Looking a little deeper, he squashes those titles by proving that his wealth doesn’t define him and his geeky knowledge strengthens him. What’s even better? His character provides a positive and nuanced representation for dark-skinned, young men.
Quality of World: 5/5
I never want to end up in the Hinterland. Yet in crafting a dark and dangerous world, Albert reeled me in with the strange personalities, shifting forests, and quirky magic of the Hinterland. For example, Alice-Three-Times chilled me to the bone (pun intended), but I still wish to see her ice-block skin.
More down to Earth, Albert’s poetic imagery of New York romanticized urban life in a way like no other. I went from smelling the freshly brewed coffee of Alice’s workplace and rolling my eyes at the four upper-class women who split a pastry . . . to catching my breath in the magic realism of an endless wood and cunning, bloodthirsty storybook characters.
Writing Style? Imaginative, moving prose.
If Albert’s style was a painting, it’d be a Jackson Pollock, splattered with every color. The variety of similes, metaphors, and adjectives spun a perfectly paced waltz that I didn’t want to leave. Scattered instances of passive voice and weak verbs drowned in her dance of creative word usage and witty dialogue. I wish I could share more without spoiling the wonder of her story, so here’s just a snippet of her work.
Sharp October sunlight sliced into my eyes as the train rattled over the bridge to Brooklyn. I had a head full of my mother’s failing marriage and what felt like five cracked teeth in my mouth. I’ve had anger issues all my life, which Ella treated with meditation tapes, low-rent Reiki therapy she taught herself from a book, and the mouth guard I was supposed to wear but couldn’t stand. During the day, I bit back every nasty thing I thought about my stepfather. At night, I took it out on my teeth.Melissa Albert, “The Hazel Wood”
In just one paragraph, Albert used Alice’s narrative to amuse me, relate me to the character, and lose me in the fictional world created. That’s what I call great writing.