OPN  Melissa Albert The Hazel Wood

In Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, we are thrust into a world where dark fairy tales seep into modern reality, creating a haunting and captivating narrative.

Alice Crewe, the protagonist, finds her life upended when her mother is kidnapped by a figure claiming to come from the Hinterland — the sinister realm depicted in her grandmother’s cult-classic fairy tales. The only clue left behind is a cryptic message: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Albert masterfully merges the fantastical with the contemporary, setting her eerie fairy tale. This blending of the mundane with the magical is one of the book’s strengths, drawing readers into a setting that feels both familiar and otherworldly.

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Alice, our guide through this unsettling journey, is a well-drawn character whose thoughts and feelings are vividly portrayed, making it easy to empathise with her struggles and fears.

Alice has always kept her distance from her grandmother’s fervent fans, but the dire circumstances force her to seek help from an unexpected ally — Ellery Finch.

Finch, a classmate and Hinterland enthusiast, brings his own set of mysteries and motivations to the story. Their uneasy partnership propels Alice into a quest that takes her first to the Hazel Wood estate and then into the very heart of the Hinterland.

A memorable read

The narrative begins with a strong, compelling momentum. Albert’s lyrical writing style enhances the story’s dark allure, enveloping readers in an atmosphere thick with suspense and foreboding. Her ability to paint vivid scenes and evoke deep emotions stands out, making the initial chapters particularly engrossing.

However, as Alice and Finch delve deeper into the mysteries of the Hazel Wood and the Hinterland, the story’s pace falters. The plot, which starts off brisk and engaging, begins to meander, losing some of its initial intensity. This shift in pacing can make the middle section of the book feel drawn out, testing the reader’s patience.

The climax and conclusion of The Hazel Wood are where the story’s cohesion begins to unravel. The resolution feels rushed and disjointed, leaving several plot threads dangling and a sense of dissatisfaction in its wake. The ending, rather than providing a clear and satisfying closure, leaves readers with more questions than answers.

Despite these pacing issues, The Hazel Wood offers a unique take on the fairy tale genre. Albert’s talent for blending the fantastical with the everyday, coupled with her poetic prose, makes for a memorable read. The charm of the Hazel Wood and the Hinterland, and the intriguing premise, are likely to captivate fans of dark fantasy.

In my views The Hazel Wood is a novel that shines brightly at the outset with its unique concept and beautiful writing. While it may falter in its execution towards the end, it remains a noteworthy addition to contemporary fairy tales, offering readers a haunting journey into a world where dark stories come to life.

Ahmad Nazir is a UAE based freelance writer