I walked a block on rubbery knees, feeling the way I did the time a van clipped my bike and sent me reeling into a line of parked cars. Ella had dropped her cigarette and jumped on the fallen bike, screaming at the top of her lungs as she sped after the car. Bleeding in three places, I watched her go, glad she knew I’d rather have retribution than comfort.
As excited as I was to read Melissa Albert’s 2018 contemporary fantasy The Hazel Wood, I cannot but say that it failed to deliver on its promise. Which is unfortunate, because there was some serious promise!
The initial premise was a huge draw, setting a reality-meets-fairytale dynamic in a grim urban fantasy world. With a strong set of characters and a clear mystery to follow, this should have been an easy win. And at first it kind of was.
Albert’s voice is engaging and easy to get ahold of, and she balances strongly-realized characters against a universe that slowly unfolds. However, it becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses that this book (in essence) may best be described as “better as an idea than in reality”.
It appears, I’m afraid, that Albert had a truly great idea for a story but didn’t have the chops to bring it home.
The good, though, was really rather good.
And while they’re being told, stories create the energy that makes this world go. They keep our stars in place. They make our grass grow.
Her writing is approachable, entertaining, and sprinkled with these lovely small phrases. I wouldn’t characterize her style in general as “evocative” or “poetic”, but every once in a while she really gets a phrase right. Those small touches proved to be refreshing, even far past my engagement with the plot itself had waned.
And boy does the plot wane. You almost wonder whether she ran out of steam while writing, or whether she just truly is a great idea girl who falls over on the execution.
Still, I’ll be reading the sequel. What can I say? Sure, I’m morbidly curious about whether she engages a stronger-willed editor this time ‘round. Mostly, though, I just want to know what happens.
Somehow, in spite of all my frustration and disappointment, I still want to know how it ends.