The Hazelwood – Review

“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”

The Hazel Wood is a remarkable creative blend of urban fantasy and twisted fairy tales with a touch of mystery added for flavor. This combination is incredibly creative and takes you deep into not just a fairy tale, or it’s retelling, but something far better.

We begin this tale through the eyes of Alice, a teenager who has spent most of her life running with her mother. What they’re running from is less clear, and only really referred to as bad luck.

“When we traveled I kept an eagle eye on the cars behind us, like bad luck could take human form and trail you like a minivan. But bad luck was sneakier than that. You couldn’t outsmart it, you could only move along when it had you in its sights.”

Alice, in true child form, becomes obsessed with her grandmother, a woman she’s never allowed to meet, and the book she wrote. Tales From The Hinterland thrust Althea into the light, but the book itself is rare, obscure and impossible to find. (Side note: I would adore this collection of fairy tales released, because oh how dark and delicious these tales would be!)

And this is where the mystery comes to light. Because in the beginning we get glimpses of this bad luck. We see Alice’s obsession with these tales and with her grandmother. Her life has the vague sparkle of something mystical lingering on the edges, but nothing defined. Is it simply Alice and her perceptions? Or is something else at play?

Whether it’s the bad luck finally catching up, or simply fate stepping in, forces conspire to drive Alice to the Hazel Wood, the mysterious estate her grandmother has hidden in. Alice finds herself learning all about these mysterious fairy tales and the woman who wrote them. More than she ever wanted to know. But once you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice learns the only way out is through. If the fairy tales will let her, that is.

“Most books’ power is in the abstract, but occasionally you’ll find one with very physical abilities.”

The first half of this novel is very much building the mystery. The mystery of the bad luck. The mystery of Althea herself and this elusive book of fairy tales. The mystery of Alice, her deep tendency to rage. The mystery of her mother and what she is so terrified of.

The mystery is what baits us. It sets the trap so that we are entangled into the core of the obsession with Alice. We feel her desire for knowledge. For something more. And once we are entwined, guaranteed to not be able to leave, the mysterious edges of what could be paranoia or fantasy begins to sharpen and reveal itself.

“Her final words had an extra resonance to them, a blur. Like they wore a mask to hide their true intentions.”

Beyond the world of murderous and violent fairy tales, this book is about so much more. I love how through this journey of fairy tales, this book really is a look at how to control your own story, to take back your voice and create your own narrative.

Alice runs because her mother tells her to. Because she is a child growing up, and children have no choice but to embark on the life their parents set out on. But when she is older, when forces plot to remove her mother from the equation, Alice has to figure out which path to set herself on. She has to decide where to go, and what to do.

A lifetime of warning from her mother, never talk to fans, never read the book, all culminate with a final warning: stay away from the Hazel Wood. Within hours she betrays the first rule, turning to fan Ellery Fitch for help. And while the book remains as elusive as ever, Fitch once owned a copy and could retell the stories with chilling accuracy.

Alice decides that even though her mother warned her, action is the only way forward. That she is the only one who can reclaim her story, who can face the bad luck and vanquish it.

“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”

Sometimes as children we can feel voiceless. We can feel lost in a world we don’t understand. Where our parents make rules that feel arbitrary and unclear. And while most of us don’t wake up to find our mothers missing and our world a blur between fantasy and reality, often we do find that we understand our parents only by defying them. We see their rationale and reason only after we make the mistakes they attempt to protect us from.

Fairy tales are told to teach us lessons. To help us understand the world at large in a way that will stay with us. This book does the same. It helps us understand the helplessness we feel as both children and as parents. How being an adult can sometimes lead to a reality less than we once imagined. It teaches us that we each have a voice of our own, and can choose to use it, even if someone more powerful tells us we can’t.

I loved this book for the dark and twisted path it led me down. But I loved it even more for the empowerment it quietly taught me.

Thank you NetGalley and Flatiron Books for approving my request to read and review this book!

Godsgrave – Review

“Nothing stinks quite like a corpse.”

BAM! The very first words, after a brief reintroduction to the characters, slam us in the face with a reminder of the world we are re-entering. Mia is back, and after the ending from the last book, her list for vengeance has only grown instead of shrunk.

There will be some possible spoilers in this review, not for this book, but for the first, so if you have not read Nevernight, you may want to stop reading. Might I also suggest that you GO PICK UP NEVERNIGHT AND START READING!!!!!

Okay, let’s proceed…

Mia has accomplished her goal of becoming a Blade for the Church, although, not exactly as she imagined when she left Godsgrave the first time. Things have gone a bit awry, and Mia finds herself a Blade, but stuck in some small town in the Republic where she will likely never encounter the people she still intends on slaying.

“Patience, she thought. If Vengeance has a mother, her name is Patience.”

But, as we have gotten to know Mia, we know that following rules isn’t something she’s prone to doing.

Our beloved narrator is back, once again, providing us with snarky little comments and helpful pieces of history as he sees fit. I say he, but who knows who the narrator is really. While there are many, many pieces of this puzzle that I am dying to figure out, the identity of the narrator is in my top three!

Instead of getting pieces of Mia’s past as a little girl, here Kristoff has played with the plotting a little more. We start the book in the midst of Mia’s new scheme and have to snap back to fill in the gaps from where we left her in Nevernight. I actually really like how this is written, because we feel immediately drawn into action rather than a slow build.

“Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget.”

And talk about action. If Nevernight has hints of a Roman empire in some far away world, Godsgrave throws us into a Gladiator Arena. Literally. Or the Godsgrave equivalent.

Kristoff has given us the introductory course to brutality in Nevernight. It’s a perfect sort of poetry that Mia is introduced to the violence of her new world as a student of the Church, and in the same way we were too. Now, we are unleashed and thrown deep into the world where we find slaves fighting for glory and the one chance for freedom. Except, Mia has other plans. She always does.

But as we discovered in Nevernight, Mia hasn’t quite lost her heart. Even though it’s been battered, and bloodied, and bruised, it’s still intact. The problem is, to accomplish her goals, to really exact the revenge she craves, she might have to lose her heart entirely.

“Little kindnesses that spoke of the biggest hearts. Mia wondered where her own might be.”

For all the harshness that this world shows us, there is such humanity in it. There’s hope, fear, love, determination, stubbornness. Everything that raises us to our best and drags us down to our worst. I love how the ideas of good and evil aren’t cookie cutter or even clear as you read. There are villains, but they aren’t always who you expect them to be. Neither are the heroes.

If you’re wondering whether this book is as violent or gory as Nevernight, I can only quote another writer who drinks the tears of his readers (Pierce Brown, Red Rising) and say, “Shit escalates.” Kristoff has raised the bar on everything in Godsgrave, and that includes the savage nature of the world. The fights are jaw dropping, heart pounding, simply stunning in their elegance and detail. You know what it is to fight in an Arena. You feel it, you hear it, you smell it.

“Dark delight in her belly. Warm blood on her hands. Mia closed her eyes. Raised her blade.”

As we race towards the end of the book, all I kept repeating in my head was no, no, no. Because there was no way I was going to get any sort of satisfaction with the pages remaining. If cliffhangers rip your heart out while it’s beating, you may want to hold off on this book. Kristoff holds your bleeding heart in his hands and laughs.

This world and these characters will crawl deep under your skin and take root. You feel as if you’ve lived in this world your entire life, and that you’ve known these characters all that time as well. These books are where book obsessions grow. And if you’re like me, you’ll ache when the book ends, and miss them as the days pass.

I am counting the days until the third (and I think final) book is released. Murder and magic may not be a combo that everyone falls in love with. But for those of you who revel in the darker side of fiction, where good and evil are a bit murkier than normal, this is a world I think you’ll fall in love with! I know I have.

 

Nevernight – Review

“At the heart of it, two kinds of people live in this world or any other: those who flee and those who fight.”

Enter the world of Mia Corvere. The little girl who barely escapes with her life after her father plots (and fails) a rebellion. Now, she is grown and has vengeance in her blood, driving her forward. Her goal is the Red Church. A school of the worlds most deadly assassins, all fighting for one of four position as Blades of the Church. She leaves Godsgrave and everything she knows to pursue her singular goal.

Jay Kristoff writes in such a unique and addicting way. There is the story, with the narration telling the story of the present but also jumping back to reveal glimpses into Mia’s past. Helping us build the horror of her past into the horror of her future. But, we get an additional narrator, in the footnotes added throughout the book.

At first, to be entirely honest, I wasn’t sure I liked that format. It felt distracting and I kept getting pulled out of the action. But, slowly, without even knowing it, I realized that this is done purposefully and adds to the immersion into the world of Itreya in a way that normal narration simply wouldn’t have allowed. It adds a second personality, and one that I quickly fell in love with.

“Here is the truth gentlefriends: when in doubt, it’s best to be polite when dealing with lunatics.”

This narrator is snarky and sarcastic in all the best ways. He adds all the details and history of the Republic, along with legends and stories from the past. It’s information that would be difficult to add in otherwise, and the humor is fantastic! To be yelled at for reading a footnote in the height of a fight, by the footnote, is just a special sort of magic.

The humor of the mysterious narrator is also needed, because this book while delightful is incredibly dark and violent. I happen to find that sort of dreariness delightful, but be warned, this book is about a school of murderers striving to become assassins in a very brutal world. Kristoff does not hold back when writing about severe punishments inflicted for breaking the rules, or in the very vivid descriptions of torture and torment, or in the fast paced and heart pounding fighting that occurs.

“The wolf does not pity the lamb,” Drusilla said. “The storm begs no forgiveness of the drowned.”

This is not a book about mercy. This is a book about vengeance and betrayal. About one girls fierce desire to take down the Republic that killed her family and destroyed her life. Mia is a fantastic character. Even though she’s more likely to slit my throat than share a meal with me, I think we would be amazing friends. She is driven by revenge, but she hasn’t lost her heart. At least, not yet. But that is something she will have to face in this quest she has set herself on.

Kristoff has given us a world that is massive and epic in detail, with the narrator contributing enormously to the richness of this world. Nevernight shows us a world with three suns. A world where the night sky is only seen rarely. A world where the city is built from the bones of a fallen God, nobles living in the gravebone ribs high above the Spine below, using weapons made of godsbone. It’s a world that is unforgiving and brutal, but wondrous and magical nonetheless.

“She could feel it. All around her. Seeping through Godsgrave’s cracks. The agony. The fury. The pure and blinding hatred nestled in this city’s bones.”

This is a book that takes the cold harshness of a Roman-like Empire and adds a touch of fantasy and magic to it. There is nothing fluffy written within these pages, but that isn’t to say that the book isn’t full of heart. This is a book that gives you the good and bad of human nature and everything in between. You may not think you can find charm in an assassin, but you’d be wrong.

Kristoff doesn’t give you cookie cutter characters where the line between good and evil is clear. Instead, he offers something more real and far more satisfying. He gives you characters that feel like people. Of course, he does add in magic, which makes everything a lot more fun!

Nevernight is a book filled with dark humor and violence. It doesn’t back away from examining the dark reality that lies beneath humanity’s shiny veneer. This is dark fantasy at it’s best. We are taken into another world. A world we don’t know but can easily recognize. We are subjected to pain and hope, betrayal and triumph, love and loss. It is a book that takes us down a very human journey, and is stunning to experience.

For anyone who enjoyed Game of Thrones or Red Rising, this book will definitely be for you!