Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic 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 Hinterland, 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.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
Dudes, this is one creepy book.
I mean, yes, I was prepared for the dark, twisted fairy tales (thank you book cover!), but the unsettled sensation of seeing these characters in the real world? Watching them plucked straight from the gruesome fairy tales they inhabited and plunked down in our world? Yeah, that left me wigging.
Wigging, I say.
Which segues nicely into my favorite part of this story: the fairy tales themselves and how they were presented. I absolutely loved how Melissa Albert wove the fairy tales into Alice and Finch’s story–something about having a character tell the stories orally really hooked me into them. Especially if the story-telling was interrupted and I was left waiting for the ending. The tales themselves were wonderfully creepy, if not downright unsettling, and I found that I enjoyed that immensely. I know a good chunk of fairy tales have dark endings (have you read the original Little Mermaid story? Yikes!) but so often nowadays, fairy tales generally have this light and airy connotation ascribed to them. And it felt refreshing to read a book about unique fairy tales that refused to fit into that category.
However, the book did have its pitfalls. I wasn’t a fan of the main character, Alice. Her anger never seemed rational to me, and even though it was explained later, it was too late–I’d already spent hours with her and decided I wasn’t a fan. She never achieved that emotional resonance so important for main characters to have. I felt bad about her mother, and that helped motivate me to keep reading, but I wasn’t as invested because of her unexplained anger issues and the demeaning way she interacted with other characters.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I loved the meta concept of the fairy tales invading the real world and the tales themselves. The writing flowed smoothly and the world-building of the Hinterland was phenomenal. Sadly, I just didn’t like the characters. 4 out of 5 stars.