I wanted to love this book so much, I really did. Fairytales are my favorite things, especially when they are science fiction/fantasy retellings, or if they are darker and more violent (no Disney Snow White for me). When I read the blurb for The Hazel Wood, I thought that it was going to be perfect. And in a way, it was. But it also wasn’t.
I loved the premise of this story so much. Alice is a teenager living on the road with her mother, Ella, bouncing from place to place, always trying to outrun the bad luck that seems to haunt them like the plague. When Ella goes missing, Alice bands together with Finch, a fan with... questionable intentions, in order to find her mother and solve the mystery of Althea (her grandmother, best known for writing the creepy book Tales of the Hinterland) and the fairytale Hinterland once and for all. Along the way, she discovers that the world is rarely what it seems... and the same goes for the people.
My favorite parts of this book were the recountings of stories from Tales of the Hinterland. These stories were super dark and creepy, and gave me the feeling I normally get after watching a murder mystery. They were so different from most of the fairytales, or fairytale retellings, that I was automatically attracted to them and looked forward to each tiny taste that I got. I wanted more, and really wish that the tales had been longer, since I enjoyed them so much.
I also really liked the idea behind the story, which is what made me finish it so quickly. I wanted to know what had happened to Ella, I wanted to know what the deal was with Althea, and I wanted to learn more about the Hinterland. Although it seemed a bit disorganized at times, mostly in the Hinterland, Alice's adventure captivated me, and left me turning the (figurative) pages as quickly as I possibly could.
My biggest issue with the book, and the reason why I rated it much lower than I wanted to (and it really pains me to do so), is that I just couldn't bring myself to become emotionally invested in the characters, Alice especially. Alice was extremely cold and cruel, and was pretty aggressive towards other people, even when they were trying to help her. Although we eventually do get an explanation for this, it made it so hard to root for her when she was being awful to other people. Most of her character was wrapped up in her anger, and there wasn't much else to her. Finch's character was also wrapped up in his Hinterland obsession, which made him seem shallow and one-sided as well.
I think this book had a really good plot/premise behind it, but suffered from a case of having the wrong character cast behind it. Had the characters been more likable, or easier to connect to, I think I would have loved this book. There was a ton of promise shown in the stories from Tales of the Hinterland, so for me it definitely wasn't the writing or the plot that turned me off, it was the characters. It pains me to rate it so low, since although I didn't like the characters, I loved the story so much.
Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy of The Hazel Wood through NetGally in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my rating, review, or opinions of the book.