Audiobook Review: Tales From the Hinterland 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 (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Short Stories
Series: The Hazel Wood
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (January 12, 2021)
Length: 6 hrs and 12 mins
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
If you loved The Hazel Wood and The Night Country by Melissa Albert, Tales from the Hinterlands is not to be missed. Heck, even if you aren’t a fan of the series, you should give this one a chance. Filled with stories both wondrous and terrifying, this is not your typical book of fairy tales.
Those familiar with the main series will recognize this as the collection written by the protagonist’s grandmother Althea Prosperpine before she all but vanished from the public eye, even as her work gained ground in certain circles. As readers, we were able to experience snippets and pieces of these stories over the course of Alice’s adventures, but merely peripherally, often in a secondary context. Now, finally, we are able to read them in their entirety, and discover out what they’ve been all about. If you haven’t read the novels though, don’t despair! They are certainly not a prerequisite, and in fact, it might even be beneficial to read this collection first as it may provide you with the context to appreciate the novels even more.
Normally when I review short story collections, I break down each entry by providing a brief summary along with my comments. However, I will not be doing that this time, since it would not work as well. Much like the traditional fairy tales that inspired them, many of the stories in here are allegorical, going beyond the plot to probe deeper themes and messages. The Brothers Grimm influence is also strong with this one, both in the whimsy and darkness of the tales. Some of them are downright twisted and disturbing, pushing beyond the boundaries of fantasy and entering horror territory as they explore extreme and impossible situations.
While I will not go into detail into each story, I do have a few favorites. The opening tale, The Door that Wasn’t There was a nice introduction, setting the tone for the rest of the collection. Fairy tale fans will appreciate the familiar tropes—rich merchants and their daughters, stepmothers and blood curses—but the ending will also surprise you, a reminder that Albert has her own ideas and that she’s working towards a unique vision for The Hazel Wood series. Other favorites include Jenny and the Night Women, The Skinned Maiden, as well as Alice-Three-Times. I loved how the protagonists of these stories are not your helpless maidens, but neither are they always good, kind, or sweet. In fact, some of them are highly unlikeable, and you’d be hard pressed to sympathize with them at all.
I also want to note that I’m generally not a big reader of short stories or collections because I prefer more developed characters and plotlines, and the short format is usually too restrictive for that. Fairy tales, however, are an exception. As I alluded to before, many fairy tales are often about something bigger than just the plot at hand. A lot of times, their characters as well as the things they do or feel are also less intrinsic to the story and more about representing something about human nature. I definitely got this vibe with many of the stories in Tales from the Hinterland, and in many cases, the shorter they were, the more meaningful they actually felt, while the longer ones rambled and lost much of their impact. Don’t get me wrong; all the stories in this collection were fun to read, but there were a few meandering, ambiguous ones that failed to hold my attention all the way, like Hansa the Traveler, Ilsa Waits, and even the much acclaimed Twice-Killed Katherine.
Still, the good stories were by far the majority. Save for a few mediocre entries, this was actually a very strong collection of fairy tales, one of the most impressive I’ve ever read. Be forewarned though, Tales from the Hinterlands is not for the faint of heart. Personally, I felt the overall tone was even darker and more mature than the novels, but that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much! Like I said, this collection can be read independently of the series, but mega-fans will probably want to seek out the print edition, as I hear the illustrations in it are gorgeous. I had the pleasure of reviewing the audio edition which had no visual component obviously, but I nevertheless had a great time listening to the fantastic narration by Rebecca Soler, whose talented voice acting made each story shine in its own way.