Melissa Albert's debut novel, The Hazel Wood, is a wonderfully dark and twisted fairy tale [Review]

John Millen |

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The Hazel Wood

By Melissa Albert

Published by Penguin

ISBN 978 0 141 38866 3

Some books arrive in bookshops trailing clouds of hype in their wake. And none more so this year than Melissa Albert’s debut YA novel The Hazel Wood. The cause of intense bidding for publishing rights, this bewitching new thriller has already secured translation deals in many foreign markets, and been sold to Sony Pictures to be turned into a movie.

Readers are right to approach any novel tagged “the next big thing” with a certain amount of caution, but doubts are quickly jettisoned as Albert starts to tell her inventive and razor-sharp tale of magic and dark deeds. The story is the thing here, and the author’s elegant writing perfectly back up the creepy and original plot. The Hazel Wood is a novel to experience, not simply read.

Alice Crewe’s grandmother, Althea Proserpine, was the author of a collection of dark fairy tales called Tales From the Hinterland; but that was decades ago and now, the book is all but forgotten. After its initial success, Althea became a recluse behind the high walls of her private estate, The Hazel Wood.

Alice has never read her grandmother’s book, because Ella, her mother, has refused to talk about it, and forbidden Alice to make any attempt to get hold of a copy.

But now, Alice is starting to ask questions. All her life, she and Ella have been on the run from something unspoken, never settling down.

Alice decides to investigate the supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. The obvious place to begin is her home.

Alice is forced into action when her mother suddenly disappears, leaving behind a warning for her daughter – stay away from the Hazel Wood. Alice reluctantly enlists her classmate and oddball Hinterland fanboy Ellery Finch into her schemes. But Ellery has ulterior motives for helping the clearly desperate Alice.

The road to the Wood leads Alice straight into the story of her family's mysterious past where nothing has ever been what it seems. Are Tales From the Hinterland just a slice of fiction, or something more sinister?

Albert’s edgy YA novel is tight with original twists as well as nods to the darkness of classic fairy tales.

Alice tells her own story, and she is a shrewd and smart narrator. Her first-person narration is occasionally interrupted by some of Althea’s stories, ratcheting up the tension.

The Hazel Wood is creepy modern fairy tale in which no one, including the reader, is safe. It is highly recommended to everyone who appreciates a creepy, darkly delicious and no-holds-barred read.

John Millen can be reached on [email protected]

Edited by Karly Cox