Book Review: The Night Country by Melissa Albert
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 2 of The Hazel Wood
Publisher: Flatiron Books (January 7, 2020)
Length: 352 pages
The theme for 2020 so far seems to be sequels with a different tone or feel than their originals. The latest book to fall into this pattern appears to be The Night Country, the follow-up to Melissa Albert’s debut The Hazel Wood, which I really enjoyed. Believe it or not, this one goes even deeper in already dark territory, but I loved how these changes enhanced the story’s haunted atmosphere and complex characters.
Anyway, as with all my sequel reviews, the usual caveat applies: the following may contain discussion involving plot details from earlier books in the series, so be sure to be caught up with The Hazel Wood before proceeding! The beginning of The Night Country takes us back to the story of Alice Proserpine, once called Alice-Three-Times, a princess of a fairy-tale realm known as the Hinterland. With the help of her friend Ellery Finch, she was able to escape the Hinterland’s clutches to attempt living as a mortal in the heart of New York City. However, the shadow cast by her enigmatic grandmother is long, and for Alice and the other survivors who were caught up in the sudden exodus, things will never be the same again. Alice, for one, is finding that living a wholly average and non-magical life as a normal teenager is tougher than she thought, not to mention someone is also out there hunting Hinterland’s ex-inhabitants, killing them in a horrible, gruesome manner…
Meanwhile, Finch finds himself wandering the many pathways of the otherworld dimensions, navigating its mysteries and attempting to unlock its many secrets. He is determined to make his way back to Alice, while trying to make sense of the strange things he encounters in this world where time passes differently and behaves in bizarre ways. On his journey, he learns of a place called The Night Country, which may be his key to understanding Alice and to reunite with her.
With the narrative alternating between Alice’s and Finch’s perspectives, the tone of The Night Country is moodier and has a lot more bite now that the two of them are mostly apart, without their banter to lighten things up. In fact, their story lines don’t come together until nearly the end, when the plot culminates into a stunning climax and conclusion. Until that point though, there’s still plenty of intrigue and darkness in both threads to keep the reader’s attention hooked. Melissa Albert’s handling of the whole “fairy tale genre” is certainly different, putting an imaginative and macabre twist on her storytelling. The little vignettes woven throughout were stroke of genius and added so much to the overall haunting vibes of the novel.
I also liked what has been done with the characters. Alice’s experiences, as well as the knowledge she has gained from the first book have mellowed her out. She’s reached another stage of her life, trying to figure out her next steps. The revelations about her past have turned her world upside down, made her confused about her identity. She’s also trying to work out her feelings for Ellery Finch, and one of the things I enjoyed about this sequel was the way it handled their relationship. I really liked Finch from the first book and was so happy to get so much from his point-of-view, immersing myself in his exploration and discoveries. Without delving too much into the romance that was lightly teased in the first book, The Night Country still managed to create a deeply nuanced and meaningful dynamic between him and Alice.
The author has also made great strides in her writing, tightening up her descriptions and dialing up the atmosphere to make this one an engaging read. Combining fairy tale elements with urban fantasy can be a challenging task, but Albert seems to have no trouble finding the right balance. Her prose ranges from whimsical to haunting, depending on what is required, creating memorable scenes and moments that leaped out at you.
All told, if you enjoyed The Hazel Wood, then you must do yourself a favor and pick up The Night Country, a worthy follow-up that is even more luscious, imaginative, and satisfying. It’s dark yet compelling, and I have to say this new direction has made me even more interested in seeing what the author will do next. Apparently, she will have a short story collection set in the same world called Tales from the Hinterland. I’m not really into anthologies, but I might have to read this one, because I’m just loving the hell out of Melissa Albert’s approach to fairy tales.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Hazel Wood (Book 1)