The second instalment of The Hazel Wood series by Melissa Albert is a stunning contemporary thriller full of suspense. Picking up where the first book left off, The Night Country continues the tale of the treacherous world of The Hinterland; where fairy tales are real, but not in a way which we commonly know. Filled with residents who exist to play out stories for eternity, as death is different in The Hinterland, life is run like clockwork with stories playing out over and over again.
Once the ice princess Alice-Three-Times and now trying to be a normal girl, Alice Proserpine along with her fellow Hinterland comrades have escaped their stories and taken New York as their new home. After the revelations of The Hazel Wood, Alice is unsure of who she is anymore and wonders whether the ex-stories can find a happy ending in a world which is not their own.
Secondary main character Ellery Finch, who helped Alice escape her story, is still residing in The Hinterland. Now a scavenger, he is collecting treasures from the ex-stories who are now living in New York. Upon this, he meets a mysterious traveller, Iolanthe who promises him safe passage back to Earth after helping her find The Night Country, a supposed magical world from a children’s storybook. But from what has been learnt so far from this world is that nothing is as nice as it seems on the surface.
Opening with Alice’s introspection the narrative seems lost and confused, making this a difficult read to initially get into. A refresh of where the first book left off is definitely something that would be useful with this issue however it does have its uses stylistically as it mirrors the feelings of the Hinterland ex-stories who have escaped into a world that they do feel they belong.
This book seems to be sat in a strange paradox of time where you can never tell if it is 50 years in the past or present day. The only giveaways of this being a reference to Netflix and a sighting of people wearing Anna and Elsa costumes. It almost seems ridiculous that this complex and dangerous world of the Hinterland can exist alongside Frozen, but every so often you come across something so mundane that you are slapped with the realisation that this story is taking place in a world, not unlike our own.
Although marketed as young adult fiction The Night Country is something that can be enjoyed by people who also enjoy reading more mature books. At times the characters can show a youthful ignorance to situations and seem to always do the wrong thing however the themes of this book are definitely something that is not always synonymous with the young adult genre. Romance is not the be-all and end-all subject of this novel. You often find that young adult fiction is drowning in either cheesy or sophisticated romance which is not something you would expect from the average seventeen-year-old. However, although the two main characters of this book shared a special connection this is not something that is massively explored.
With twin plotlines coming from Alice’s first-person account and Finch’s third, their stories do not come together until the climactic ending and even then it is not a reunion of two long lost lovers. The budding romance from the first book is not something that is acted upon greatly in the second. For that reason, The Night Country is a novel that can be enjoyed by anyone who is looking for a suspenseful and exciting read.