THE HAZEL WOOD - by Melissa Albert

THE HAZEL WOOD - Melissa Albert.
Published:  February 2018 - Penguin
Genres: Young adult / fantasy /
Pages: 359.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Violence / infrequent bad language / mild horror 
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Penguin Random House SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice's life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice's grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate - the Hazel Wood - Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away - by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began . . .

This book has been getting such mixed reviews. But as a lover of dark fairy tales, I expected to enjoy it, if not love it.

The writing is extremely specific and colourful. At first I liked that, because it felt rich and vivid, but soon it became frustrating. The prose is too purple, there are too many nonsensical metaphors and smilies, and it's all just excessively flowery. For example, take this sentence: "My mouth tasted like dead coffee." Honestly, that doesn't make sense. If you loved Caravel by Stephanie Garber, I think you'll love Albert's writing, but otherwise you'll find it bizarre - like I did.
But the dialogue is good. I really liked it, and I think the characters' voices come through clearly.

The plot is very slow. It's creepy, wildly imaginative, and because I love fairy tales, I thoroughly enjoyed all the twisted stories and magical happenings. Sure, it doesn't make complete sense, but it's not supposed to; it's otherworldly and fairytale-like.
For me, the ending is the best part of the book. I think Albert wraps everything up incredibly well, and the grand twist is intelligent, satisfying, and deeply thought-out. It works so well, and it ties everything up wonderfully.

“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.”

The characters are well-drawn and eccentric. I can't say I was mad about anyone, but I liked them and I thought Alice was a quirky, interesting heroine to get behind. I particularly loved her relationship with Ella. Ella is a fantastic character.
The romance isn't anything amazing. I personally never felt the chemistry between Finch and Alice, and was more invested in Alice's relationship with her mother. Finch just seemed like a hero who had to be there, not because he was particularly needed.

The Hazel Wood is abstract, creative, and packed with interesting characters. It's an enjoyable, slow story, but the flowery writing ruined it for me.  

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