“The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert is an atmospheric young adult fantasy novel with a few loose ends


Charlotte Gumpel, Staff Writer

To be entirely honest, I felt my love for fantasy slipping through my fingers as I grew older. While the “Percy Jackson” series by Rick Riordan will forever hold a place in my heart, I found the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of fantasy novels less and less enjoyable with every new novel I read. It took lots of energy to keep up with the never-ending action and my interest began to fizzle out. As time went on, I found myself leaning more towards realistic and historical fiction – I enjoyed the in-depth analysis of emotions and dilemmas and human nature in general. One I greatly recommend is “The Astonishing Color of After” by Emily X.R. Pan (review on thefanscotian.com!). However, after a several-year hiatus of fantasy novels, I decided to give the genre another chance – and so, my attention landed on “The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert. As I walked through the book section in Target, my eyes were drawn to the flashy yet tasteful cover art, and I decided to give it a read. 


One thing I will say, “The Hazel Wood” definitely did not rekindle my interest in fantasy writing. 


The story follows 17-year-old Alice, who has been on the run with her mother, Ella, for as long as she can remember. They flee from city to city, couch to couch, job to job, always on the run from the “bad luck” that seems to clip at their ankles everywhere they go. Alice’s grandmother, Ella’s mother, is a very famous author who wrote a collection of short stories that are elusive in today’s world. The stories are dark and twisted, which have landed her grandmother a cult-like following. Alice has never met her grandmother and has yet to step foot on the exclusive estate her grandmother lives on called the Hazel Wood. However, when Ella is kidnapped, Alice desperately flees to the mysterious estate. Alice comes to find out that her grandmother died alone in her home and also learns that her mother has been kidnapped by a figure who claims to be from the Hinterland – the cruel world in which her grandmother’s stories take place. Alice has no leads, except for the words from Ella, “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”


Alice has long steered clear from the cultish fans of her grandmother. However, her desperation leads her to befriend Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan, who is shady in his intentions. To rescue her mother, Alice must venture into the Hazel Wood, where the complex and fantastical ideas of her grandmother were born. 


For such an enticing and interesting summary, “The Hazel Wood,” in simple terms, falls flat. While reading the blurb, I found myself ripping open the book and expecting this myriad of mystery, fantasy, and exploration. However, several chapters into the book, I already knew it would be anything but.  


This book was just… flat. The characters – mostly Alice – were one-dimensional and borderline frustrating. The writing was fine. Honestly, the best parts of this book were the fantasy elements. However, the potential in the fantasy elements was not enough to save the entire story.


I think the sentence to summarize the book entirely would be; limitless in its synopsis, but underwhelming in its execution. Each character, especially Finch, were brimming with potential but were either pushed off to the side or given little development. 


So, in conclusion, this book was not a total drag to read, but it did not employ the style, pacing or allure that usually makes fantasy novels so enjoyable. However, my tastes are biased – so give it a try and see what happens.