So, remember a thousand years ago, when I mentioned that I hardly ever read a sequel? And have you noticed how every year I promise I’ll read and review a book per month, but I hardly ever do? Well, friends, I have for you today, a unicorn. Not only have I read the third and final book in a series, but this is my second review- not just in a month, but in a week!
I discovered Melissa Albert in 2018 by just picking up The Hazel Wood at Target because that year’s reading challenge had a prompt to choose a book based on the cover. And she has a hell of a cover. I devoured it. I wax pretty hyperbolic about why in the previous two posts.
In 2019, Albert started teasing her second book and I got so frustrated about how long she was taking (I knoooow, I’m the worst kind of fan. But, I kept it to myself, I didn’t harass her online. I suffered in silence.) I went to a Barnes and Noble in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, while I was visiting a friend, to preorder and make sure that that thing was on my doorstep as quickly as humanly possible. That’s the correct way to show support of an author’s work.
By the time it arrived, a couple of my friends had discovered her genius, too, and we clasped hands together as we waited for the books to arrive.
And then, the news came down that she had yielded to pressure and decided to write the collection of fairytales that the two books were based around, and we lost- our- minds. We all became Ellory Finch and didn’t even feel weird about it.
And because it was 2020, it was announced that the book launch would be virtual, and cost only $30 to attend, which included the book (+shipping included), signed bookplate, and a little enamel pin. I’m not a big fan of enamel pins, but I’m a diehard fangirl, so I’m already here- give me all the merch. One of my fanboy friends ‘picked me up’ fifteen minutes early, and we trekked to Albert’s NYC home to watch together. $30 is a lot for a book, but a lot cheaper than a plane ticket. Like everyone else, I can’t wait for life to go back to normal, but if virtual events are here to stay, I won’t be mad about it,
That’s my long-winded way of saying, I was HYPED for this book, my friends were hyped for this book. I don’t know how far her reach is, right now, but she’s already created a cult fanbase worthy of her own antholgist, Althea Proserpine. So, without anymore gushing, I’ll dive right into how and why I ripped through this book in 4 days.
Tales from the Hinterland is a series of twelve independent stories, each revolving around a female character. Well, one story is centred on a man, but it’s about a woman. These women are clever, resourceful, strong-willed, independent, and powerful, but it’s their differences that set them apart. Many are cold, some cruel, some curious or determined or patient. Some of them are victims of circumstances created before their births, but none of them are passive. Some might bide their time, but they’re only waiting.
There are secondary or peripheral female characters, mostly innocent sisters or wicked mothers/stepmothers, but the majority of deuteragonists are men. These men have more of a range (because passive fairytale princesses are not what modern audiences want). Some are cool and detached entities, cruel and vicious abusers, or, rarely, actually good and loving husbands and fathers.
But the heart of these stories are strong women, carving places for themselves in a harsh fairytale world.
Because there are twelve stories, there are twelve plots, that sometimes hint at almost intertwining, but there are very few clear references to other stories. Except references to The Hazel Wood or The Night Country, but this book is technically the prequel, so that’s fine. Though Albert herself advises reading it between The Hazel Wood and the Night Country. Book 1.5, if you will.
These are dark fairytales, though originally, all fairytales are dark. Don’t come looking for happy endings, but similarly, don’t dread the tragedy. The endings are satisfying, cathartic, and provide a sense of closure and rightness, even among the horror, because some stories can only end one way. It feels right, if not happy. Fate plays a big part in folklore.
Technically, the setting is the same- the dark vaguely historical world of The Hinterland, reminiscent from eras spanning between the late Medieval of Victorian fantasy to the mid-1800s of modern fantasy. It’s old-timey, a period where we had spinning wheels, chamberpots, and maidens fed the geese from aprons full of seed.
The Hinterland is a dark, horrific fantasyland, full of teeth and blood and screams in the night, but also nice things like sweets and satin and flowers. It’s light and dark in equal measure, at all times.
The individual stories have their own settings, of course, within the Hinterland. There are castles and palaces, wizard mansions, seaside cottages, ancient forests, and toyshops. There are even descents into the underworld, full of minerals and trees made of gemstones.
I’ve talked about Albert’s style many times before, and this book fits seamlessly beside the other two. It’s almost purple in its decadence, but also bald in a way that credits the audience with understanding what’s going on, on and beneath the surface. She has a way of describing something in the fewest possible words that somehow injects more life than it should, then switching and using unexpected words to say something simple, like describing the negative space until an image emerges.
*sigh* I have a big bad crush.
I’m gonna go buy a golden bear onesie. If you know, you know. 😉