The Hazel Wood
By Melissa Albert
Alice and her mother, Ella, have been plagued by bad luck for as long as Alice can remember. They have constantly moved about to try to outrun it but somehow it always catches up with them. That all changes with the death of Alice's reclusive author grandmother, finally Ella says it is safe to stay in one place.
Then one morning Ella is gone leaving nothing but a cryptic message telling Alice to Stay Away From The Hazel Wood. Alice knows she that her grandmother's book is the key to her mother's disappearance but hasn't read it herself so she has no choice but to turn to superfan Ellery Finch for help.
The Hazel Wood is a fairy tale with a twist, wholly original and definitely unputdownable.
The Hazel Wood begins with a Vanity Fair article from 1987 on reclusive author Althea Proserpine. The author states that
Althea is raising her daughter on fairy tales. An intriguing first line.
“I ask if I can come talk to her in person, and her laugh is hot whiskey on ice. ‘You’d get lost on the way to finding me,’ she says. ‘You’d need breadcrumbs, or a spool of thread.’
The protagonist of The Hazel Wood is 17-year-old Alice Proserpine, granddaughter of Althea.
“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”
Alice and her mother, Ella, moved about so much when Alice was younger and stayed with so many different people that she had no awareness of the stranger danger. At the age of six she climbed into a car with a red-headed man she had never met and let him drive her for fourteen hours before the police caught up with them. She had been fooled into getting into the car because he told her he knew her grandmother, but it turned out he was just an obsessive fan of her grandmother’s book.
Alice and her mother, Ella, have been plagued by bad luck for as long as Alice can remember. They have constantly moved about to try to outrun it but sometimes it always catches up with them. That all changes with the death of Alice's reclusive author grandmother, finally Ella says it is safe to stay in one place.
“Until Althea Proserpine died all alone on the grand estate she’d named the Hazel Wood, my mother and I had spent our lives as bad luck guests. We moved at least twice a year and sometimes more, but the bad luck always found us.”
Alice had never met Althea, but she used to frequently dream of meeting her and going to live with her. Ella tells Alice that Althea’s death means they are free and shortly after that they settle in an apartment in Brooklyn.
Alice gets a part-time job in a coffee shop and after a whirlwind romance Ella marries a rich man named Harold.
On day at work Alice is startled to see the redheaded man who kidnapped her in the coffee shop where she works. The only problem is he hasn’t aged at all in ten years and Alice knows if he is there then he is there for her. Before Alice can question him, he bolts but not before she realises he is was reading her grandmother’s book Tales From The Hinterland.
Alice was only ten when she first discovered a copy of her grandmother’s book and realised it was not just any book but a book full of fairy tales.
“I was already the kind of girl who closed my eyes and thumped the backs of furniture looking for hidden doors, and wished on second stars to the right whenever the night was dark enough to see them. Finding a green and book with a fairy tale name in the very bottom of an otherwise boring chest of drawers thrilled me.”
There were 12 stories in total in the book: The Door That Wasn’t There, Hansa The Traveller, The Clockwork Bride, Jenny And The Night Women, The Skinned Maiden, Alice-Three-Times, The House Under The Stairwell, Ilsa Waits, The Sea Cellar, The Mother And The Dagger, Twice-Killed Katherine, and Death And The Woodwife.
Naturally Alice was tempted by the story with her name in the title but before she could read more than the first line Ella interrupted her and told her the book was not for children. Ella had never restricted Alice from doing anything based on her age, so this ban intrigued Alice further. This and the haunting first line of the story.
“When Alice was born, her eyes were black from end to end, and the midwife didn’t stay long enough to wash her.”
No matter how hard she tried Alice could never find another copy of the book, so she took to obsessively reading anything she could about her grandmother. Until she was old enough to realise that maybe the reason she had never met Althea was because her grandmother wasn’t interested in meeting her.
Alice decides to wait to tell Ella about the man with the red hair because Ella has had a bad day.
The next day when Alice returns from school Ella has gone and there is no sign of Audrey or Harold in the apartment. There is a bad smell that lingers, and an envelope addressed to her with the title page from ‘Alice -Three – Times’ inside.
With nothing to go on and suspecting that all this is somehow connected to her grandmother’s book, Alice has nothing to go on and no knowledge of her grandmother’s book. In desperation she turns to classmate and superfan of her grandmother’s book Ellery Finch.
Unfortunately, Finch had his copy of Tales From The Hinterland stolen from him but he can remember some of the brilliantly eerie tales. Together they go to Harold’s apartment and are startled to hear that Ella has been taken by a group calling themselves ‘The Hinterland.’ Harold’s daughter Audrey also gives her a message from Ella to ‘stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood.’
Together Alice and Finch set out to find her grandmother’s estate the Hazel Wood in the hope that they will find some answers there.
I read some other reviews of The Hazel Wood prior to requesting this book and some of them were negative but I have to say I have no idea what they were on about. I loved this book and as soon as I finished it I wanted to read it again. The Hazel Wood is ideal for fans of Grimm fairytales.
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