It’s time for another unpopular opinion review! This book was literally the single biggest reading disappointment of the year for me. I really wanted to love this story. It was being marketed as a twisted fairytale, and those are my aesthetic for sure – the spookier and darker, the better – but this fell short in so many ways. Please remember that these are just my opinions! You are more than welcome to disagree or tell me your thoughts, but please do so respectfully. ❤
“I wanted that distance. I wanted that uncaring, ‘here’s your blood and guts and your fucked-up happy ending’ fairy-tale voice.”
→ genre marketing & writing ←
Marketing led me to believe that this was going to be the typical high fantasy world we see in fairytales. My first disappointment was in learning that the setting was modern-day New York, and the first half of the book straddled the line between contemporary and urban fantasy, at best.
The story doesn’t pick up as an actual fantasy tale until after the halfway mark, and when it does, the writing immediately becomes much less enjoyable. Anyone who knows my reading tastes knows I love flowery prose, but many of the descriptions in the fantasy “half” of this book go far past flowery, straight through whimsical, and land smack-dab in nonsense.
I did get it, I did. And the shame of it boiled into something darker. Before my brain could catch up, I jerked the wheel and turned the car off the road, sending us rattling toward the trees.
→ Alice ←
Let me put it this way: The Hazel Wood is my 200th read of 2017, and there have only been two narrators out of the entire other 199 titles that held a candle to how terrible Alice is. She starts the book off poorly, rambling about her anger issues without giving us any reason as to why she’s talking about them. As it progresses, she expresses actual, unwarranted physical violence towards other characters (including attempting to kill them via vehicular manslaughter because she feels guilty for her own poor choices).
She shouts and snaps constantly, has no respect for anyone (besides her mother), and judges everyone she meets hyper-critically. Her judgmental nature even borders on ableism when she meets a character who has been driven to a broken mental state by entering the Hazel Wood: Alice has several internal monologues about how little she trusts the woman’s hygiene and the state of the woman’s home’s cleanliness, solely because she doesn’t deem the woman “sane enough”.
Even when she enlists the help of Finch, she is incessantly rude, critical, and offensive towards him. When she is finally called out on her offensive nature, she deflects, makes excuses, and has a general disregard for any harm she has caused. In one scenario, when he remarks on her misogynistic speech, her actual comeback is, “Oh, my god, Finch, go get a liberal arts degree” (I read this three times in hopes of making sense of it before deciding that she learned her snark from old men in facebook comment threads).
Beyond all of the ways in which Alice’s character is incredibly harmful and is rarely – if ever – challenged for most of her behaviors, she’s also just not well-written. She’s hypocritical, self-contradicting, and outright boring.
Maybe Finch wasn’t trying to be the sidekick in my story. Maybe he was trying to start one of his own.
→ Finch ←
Finch is introduced in a way that gave me actual optimism for the story: he’s a classmate of hers who is kind and welcoming, seeks her friendship, and offers to face certain danger to help her find the Hazel Wood and her mother. Unfortunately, my optimism started to falter when I learned that Finch, the single black character in the story (in New York City, no less), is commented on multiple times as being unattractive and “a waste of wealth” – never challenged.
That was the first red flag – in a book with no commentary on anyone else’s features, the single person of color is the only unattractive one? – but it worsens when Finch, despite being a very present figure throughout the story, is never fleshed out. He feels incredibly one-dimensional from start to finish, though some of this may just be to blame on Alice’s refusal to let him speak for more than thirty seconds without telling him to shut up.
It felt like there was some small attempt to have a dialogue on racism and privilege when Finch talks to Alice about being afraid of racial profiling, but it’s thrown away when Alice immediately insinuates that his father’s wealth negates any racism he faces, and then further derails the conversation every time he tries to speak to her about it. By the end of the book, I resigned myself to the feeling that Finch was, in every shape and form, a Token Black Character™. His entire character arc felt so bad to read.
→ fairytales ←
Literally the only redeeming aspect of this book, for me, was the occasional time when we would get to hear one of Althea’s tales. Sadly, they’re incredibly few and far between – I think we only got two full tales in the entire book. I enjoyed those stories, and would probably read a bind-up of them, but within the context of the entire book, they weren’t enough to salvage it.
→ FINAL THOUGHTS ←
This book was just a total disaster from start to finish for me, and the only reason I didn’t DNF it at the 40% mark was because I was so desperately hoping it would improve by the end. I would more than likely not pick up any future books by Melissa Albert, and cannot, in good faith, recommend this story to anyone.