Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice's life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels.
But when Alice's grandmother, the reclusive author of a 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, by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world from her grandmother's stories.
Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.
To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began . . .
This book is dark, mesmerising and thoroughly unsettling.
I felt on edge the whole time I was reading it. The first half of it has that "something out of the corner of your eye" feel that really good scary stories have, that familiar world where there's just something off that you can't quite pin down. But you keep going, on into the Hazel Wood, and the world starts to take on a dream like feel, hazy, and you're no longer sure what's happening and what's metaphor, what's real and what's just story.
It's beautifully done. The pacing, the gradual unfolding of the plot, the stories within the story, the language of the writing, it all has incredible subtlety to it.
The characters are superb too. I loved Ellery Finch, who always felt like he was vibrating with energy and potential. Alice's relationship with him was really interesting, and I liked the lack of any real romantic plot between them. Alice herself is a fascinating character, mostly defined by what we don't know and yet she felt real and complex.
I love fairy stories, and books about fairy stories, and I particularly like the darkness that is so often found just below the surface of these stories. That scary, thrilling side of stories is played out remarkably well in The Hazel Wood.
One of the most atmospheric books I've read in a long time.