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.
Don’t go into this novel expecting a romance featuring a handsome prince or some fae lord. It isn’t that kind of fairy tale. This is one with a dark overtones, like some of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales that lived up to the grim part.
The first section of the book sets up Alice’s life with her mother Ella. They have spent their lives in transit, trying to stay one step ahead of the weird bad luck that has dogged their lives. Ella refuses to talk about her own mother, Althea Proserpine, or Althea’s property, the Hazel Wood. The book that Althea wrote (Tales from the Hinterland) that made her famous (or infamous) is almost impossible to find and Alice has become quite fixated on acquiring a copy. When Alice’s grandmother dies and her mother is kidnapped, Alice must decide whether to follow her mother’s last instruction: stay away from the Hazel Wood.
Of course if Alice wants her mother back (and she does) there is only one thing to do—find the Hazel Wood and figure out what the heck is going on. She must brave the Hinterland and all its strangeness to learn about her heritage once and for all. She discovers that the Hinterland contains a variety of folk—those who are refugees from her world and those who are native, consisting either of Stories or those who surround the Stories as supporting cast so to speak. If you are a Story, you relive your Story over and over again without end. Can Alice disrupt the Story that holds her life hostage?
It struck me that many of us are caught in similar loops in our lives that we have a difficult time recognizing and breaking out of. Don’t we all have that one woman friend who flees one abusive man only to end up almost immediately in a relationship with another jerk? Or your friend who is so busy collecting people to take care of that her own life goes nowhere? Or the man walks by a room full of nice women directly to the one woman who will never be faithful or committed to a relationship? It’s easy to see these patterns in others, much more difficult to recognize them in our own lives and much, much tougher to actually break those patterns.
So no, this is not a fairy tale romance, but it speaks to the patterns visible in fairy tales and in our own lives.