Alice in… Hinterland?

Melissa Albert’s novel, “The Hazel Wood,” follows the confusing life of 17-year-old Alice, who definitely doesn’t have the normal issues of an angsty, smart-mouthed teenager.

Alice and her mother, Ella, have spent their years travelling from place to place and sleeping on friends’ couches, running from a never-ending stream of bad luck.

Many of these incidents are the result of a collection of fairy tales titled “Tales from the Hinterland,” a book within the book – written by Alice’s grandmother, Althea – and the cult following the book has created. 

Alice has never met Althea because of her mother’s determination to cut ties from the Hazel Wood – Althea’s estate, where the tales were written.

Shortly after receiving news of Althea’s death, all hell breaks loose and Ella is kidnapped, leaving Alice no clues other than a note saying, “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

So, naturally, the first thing Alice does is set off for the Hazel Wood alongside her friend and Hinterland-super-fan, Ellery Finch, thus beginning our journey into the fantastical world of the stories.

I read a lot of mixed reviews about this book before going into it, and I have to be honest when I say my expectations were relatively low. Negative reviews aside, the whole whimsical, unrealistic fairy-tale setting has just never really been my cup of tea.

But dear reader I was wrong!

This book had the perfect mix of reality – with creepy Brother’s Grimm-style characters from the “Tales of the Hinterland.” I appreciate that unlike other books in this genre, we don’t spend the entirety of the story stuck in this “wonderland-like” world – instead, it ties fairy tale into the reality we are all familiar with.

Alice’s personality has received lots of negativity in other reviews due to her foul language and short temper, but I found these things made her extremely entertaining, and honestly, quite relatable to a lot of teenagers.

In the words of Alice herself, “Life never turns out how you imagine it will when you’re young. Everything is smaller than you think, or too big. It all smells a little funny and fits like somebody else’s shirt.”

So, how else would you expect someone in her situation to act? It’s hard to remain positive when your only family member has been kidnapped, and you have no idea who you really are.

Alice is the only character who seeems to develop throughout the novel, but that doesn’t mean the other characters aren’t strong.

The whole story-within-a-story concept is hard to write, but Albert does a great job in creating these Hinterland characters who genuinely make you feel on edge. It’s the type of stuff that is pulled directly from your childhood nightmares, and I loved every second of it.

However, one character I could have completely done without – and I know I will probably get heat for this – was Ellery Finch.

He annoyed me from beginning to end and felt entirely unnecessary for a bulk of the story. It’s hard to talk about why I feel this way without spoiling anything, but if you read the novel, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Even though there were parts of the story that dragged a little, I believe the ending is worth pushing through for.

It’s certainly an unexpected twist, and Albert’s ability to tie the loose ends together was almost flawless. 

The ending, though satisfactory, just left me wanting a bit more.

There is a lot of build up to the end of the story, and because of that, I expected the ending to be much longer. I don’t think it needed to be changed, but I definitely think more action could have been included for Alice.

Overall, this was the first fairy tale-style story I actually enjoyed. It had the perfect balance of reality and fantasy, and I am really hoping the sequel to this book gives Alice the action-packed justice she deserves.