Fairy tales are kind of my thing. Whether classics by Anderson and Grimm, modern versions of old favorites, or brand-new stories told in fairy tale form, I’m your audience. What’s more, we seem to be living in a golden age for stories like these! As I type these words, my shelf runneth over with to-be-read retellings, and so I finally decided to make a dent in the stack.
Top of my list? THE NIGHT COUNTRY by Melissa Albert. THE NIGHT COUNTRY is the second book in Albert’s immensely popular series, THE HAZEL WOOD. The first book, for which the series was named, was one of the top debuts in YA Fantasy literature in 2018, and Albert’s lush-meets-gritty style absolutely blew me away. So I had a hunch going into this thing that it would be right up my alley.
THE NIGHT COUNTRY is the continuation of The Hazel Wood, the story in which Alice-Three-Times Proserpine escapes her dark fairytale ending with the help of the handsome but elusive Ellery Finch. In the last book, Alice and Finch each chose a path that would lead them from the other. Now time has passed and, though neither *quite* regrets their decision, they can’t seem to stop thinking about each other, hoping that one day they might see one another again.
For Alice, two years has passed, and her life in New York is once again threatened: someone is killing the Hinterlanders. When it’s discovered that the murder victims may have been frozen—a power only Alice is known to possess—the other stories begin to look at her with suspicion. Alice is almost certain she isn’t to blame. It’s right about that time when Alice begins receiving mysterious letters that are almost certainly from Finch, who she left behind in the Hinterland two years ago.
Not nearly as much time has passed for Finch in the Hinterland. It seems it was just a few weeks ago that he helped Alice escape the Hazel Wood before electing to stay behind in the Hinterland. There’s no way he could have any idea that, outside, the stories are dying . . . and soon enough, the Hinterland will face the same fate. What he does know is that he can’t stop thinking about Alice—so when a stranger offers to help him make his way back to the world he left behind, he agrees, never imagining that the journey may result in the shattering of all their worlds . . . forever.
Like book one, my favorite part of this tale is Albert’s writing. At once poetic, gritty, and real, it is the kind of book I want to bathe in so I can soak up all the beautiful language and barbed imagery. I LIVE for this kind of writing. As a story, it was entertaining, though somewhat slow moving. That’s not to say I enjoyed it less than book one—I didn’t—I just didn’t think there was quite so much happening. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gripping plot this one probably isn’t it . . . but if you’re looking for an interesting meander through a dark-lore world with devastatingly brilliant imagery and turns of phrase, then this may just be your jam and Albert’s work is likely right up your alley. Especially if you love fairy tales, having the innate understanding that Happily Ever After is, well . . . complicated.
PS: If you read The Hazel Wood series and find yourself pining for more, you’ll be thrilled to find out Albert just dropped a related title, TALES FROM THE HINTERLAND, a companion volume featuring twelve deliciously dark and original fairy tales related to characters and stories from The Hazel Wood. (Yeah, that one’s in my pile now, too!)