Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
I’ve had this book in my queue for a while, but having a buddy-read with my friend, Jennie, with it was the perfect excuse to get it read and I’m so glad I did! This is a dark YA fantasy with a lot of gothic vibes. The plot revolves around Alice, whose grandmother has become a reclusive hermit in the Hazel Wood after the publication of a collection of very grim fairy tales. Alice and her mother, Ella, are constantly on the move, jumping from one place to the next, always trying to outrun the bad luck that seems to follow them ceaselessly. Ella is kidnapped by a resident of the Wood and Alice, along with a boy from her school who has a serious fan-crush on her grandmother, make the choice to team up to rescue her.
I am always a sucker for retold fairy tales and this one recreates the feel of the tales we know with a modern and sinister twist. (Major points for the bonus Stories content at the end. I absolutely LOVED the one about Ilsa.) The author does a great job interwining those Stories that are old but new, along with a spooky, gothic atmosphere and a fast-paced adventure as Alice (who is also written with some Alice in Wonderland vibes, where she’s never certain what’s reality and what’s a Story) races to save her mother from the Wood. I liked that her character was flawed but she was willing to work through her demons and rise above challenges with a nice balance of determination and uncertainty about her own strength.
My one reservation with this book is that the character of Ellery Finch, who seems like a great balance to Alice, and someone with his own dark hidden secrets, was kind of a throwaway. He is a large part of the narrative in the first half of the book but then kind of disappears to only pop up at the end, completely changed. I wanted more of his story and I wanted to hear about his quest within the Wood. Maybe that’s followed up in book 2? But if so, that’s one of my pet peeves, to leave a completely dangling portion of the story that feels abruptly cut off.
Overall, then a 4/5 star read for me. Good pacing, exciting adventure and a strong MC mixed with a liberal dose of creepy fairly tales helped up my rating on this title.