Review - The Night Country by Melissa Albert
The Night Country
by Melissa Albert
Alice has fought hard for a normal life. Having escaped the Hinterland - the strange, pitch-dark world she was born into - she has washed up in New York City, determined to build a new future for herself.
But when her fellow survivors start being brutally murdered, Alice must face the fact that the Hinterland cannot be so easily escaped. And that, from the shadows of her past something - or someone - is coming for her...
I really enjoyed Melissa Albert's first novel, The Hazel Wood, and gave it a 5 moon review here. So I was very excited to receive a proof copy of the sequel, The Night Country. I wasn't disappointed. It's another excellent read.
Like The Hazel Wood, The Night Country takes place across different realities, a modern, contemporary New York City and the world where the stories play out. This time there are more story worlds. For anyone who, like me, read CS Lewis's Magician's Nephew and wanted to explore all the other pools that led to worlds that aren't Narnia, this captures something of that feeling, as Finch moves from world to world and we're given just tantalising glimpses of fascinating and dangerous places. And they do feel dangerous. That's one of the things I really love about Melissa Albert's stories. They never feel safe. The story worlds are dark and creepy and scary. It's a reminder of how grim a lot of the original fairy tales were before they were cleaned up for Disney celluloid.
It's not just the story worlds though. A lot of the story characters are now living in New York, after the events of The Hazel Wood, and some of them were most definitely the villains in their stories. Again there's something seriously unsettling about a lot of these story characters, and how they see themselves interacting with our own world. Throw a series of unsettling and brutal murders into the mix and no where feels safe this time around. I loved how Alice's part of the story kept her constantly on the back foot, uneasy and feeling unsafe. She's also trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs while this is all unfolding around her, giving her a fascinating story arc.
There's a lovely thread of romance too, mostly expressed through longing for someone trapped in another world, but I loved watching how it developed and how the stories finally all collided, which was done in a most satisfying way.
Oh, and the weirdest thing happened while I was reading this book. I'd started it, and then put it down while I got on with normal life stuff. The next morning, over breakfast, I was scrolling through Twitter and I found a thread about the best literary letters, citing Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne in Persuasion as the best of them all. Now, I've never read Persuasion, so I zoomed in on the picture of the book and I read this letter. And it is a very good letter. A few hours later I went back to reading The Night Country. In the next chapter Alice settles down on the floor in a bookshop and reads Persuasion, specifically the part where Captain Wentworth writes to Anne. There's true magic in this novel!
Books about stories can be tricky things, but The Night Country told its tale beautifully, showing the power and threat that stories can hold.
I'm giving The Night Country 5 moons, and I'm hoping for more stories about Alice and Finch.
The Night Country by Melissa Albert is published by Penguin Random House. It is out now.