The Night Country

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Hazel Wood. You can read my review of this novel [here]

The Night Country was written by Melissa Albert and first published in 2020. It is an urban fantasy novel that focuses on a group of refugees from a dying world who are forced to relocate to modern day New York. The novel is a direct sequel to The Hazel Wood (2018), and Albert also plans to release Tales from the Hinterlands – the fictional book of faerie stories featured in this series – in early 2021.

After Alice’s dangerous escape from the Hinterlands, she though that she would be able to build a better life for herself. However, she has slowly come to realise that the Hinterlands never really lets anyone go. Even though Alice has lost her icy powers, she still struggles to fit in. The human world feels unnatural to her, but the other Stories resent her for the roll she played in destroying their world.

While most of the Stories seem to be harmless enough, Alice soon learns that something dark still stalks amongst them. Something is brutally murdering the Stories, stealing a single body part from every one that that it slays. To make matters worse, the killer also seems to be able to freeze people with a touch. The remaining Stories are now starting to believe that Alice is responsible, and she knows that she needs to find out the killer’s true identity if she is to clear her name.

Meanwhile, in the ruins of the Hinterlands, Ellery Finch is trying to find his way home. As the world collapses around him, he strikes a deal with Iolanthe – a girl who knows how to make doors. All he wants is to return to New York and be with Alice once again. Little does he know that his return will not be easy. His journey takes him to a library of worlds where he learns of the existence of a legendary realm called the Night Country, and the terrible price that was paid to create it…

This is one of the hardest reviews that I have had to write this year, as The Hazel Wood is one of my favourite novels of all time. Even though I have not read the original in a while, it is one of those stories that are just unforgettable. Although not really a horror story, its haunting tone really got under my skin and stayed with me for a long time after I had finished reading. Sadly, The Night Country just did not tickle my imagination in the same way.

The Night Country is set a couple of years after the events of the first book and, despite not really standing alone, did almost feel as though it was a complete story in its own right. Its focus is still primarily on Alice, who does not really seem to have put her past behind her. Despite the optimistic tone of the end of The Hazel Wood, Alice is now riddled with self-doubt and a lot of the novel is devoted to her personal journey. Although she wants to put her time in the Hinterlands behind her, she still feels that her adopted mother does not understand her and certain Stories seem to be keen to draw her back into their fold.

Unlike The Hazel Wood, which maintained a pretty steady pace throughout, a large part of The Night Country just seemed to drag. Although the story was peppered with some wonderful sequences that managed to recapture the original’s sense of the Sublime, there is not a lot of action to be found. The surprisingly gruesome murder mystery largely plays out in the background, with Alice finding out about each death after the fact, and never feels like the driving force behind the story until its climax. Even Alice’s encounters with other former Stories seem surprisingly few and far between, as so much of the tale is merely set within her own mind.

Although most of the story is told in first person by Alice, there are occasional third person chapters that detail Finch’s escape from the Hinterlands. Sadly, the Hinterlands in this story is just a pale shadow of what it once was and it takes a very long time for Finch and Alice’s stories to intersect. This lack of focus did really cause me to struggle to get through this book. While The Hazel Wood could be surreal in places, it did still have a clear structure that kept the plot in motion. Even as The Night Country approached its climax, it felt as though it lacked the drive of the original. As soon as the novel revealed what a Night Country was, it became painfully obvious who the killer had to be.

In terms of character, I also felt that The Night Country lacked focus. The cast this time felt as though they had been heavily watered down. Despite how positive Alice seemed at the end of The Hazel Wood, she seems to now have completely lost her conviction. Gone is the fire that she once had, instead replaced by a well of confidence issues and an odd lack of understanding regarding how the Stories operate. Finch, too, seems to have been deeply changed by his experience. While he was a bit of an outcast and a wanderer in The Hazel Wood – one of those who had been fundamentally changed by Althea Proserpine’s novel – he is now characterised solely by a desire to return home (predominantly to see Alice again).

Yet the saddest thing about The Night Country was the way that the Stories have been muted. The novel really reminded me of the award-winning comic series Fables, in that it focused on a race of fictional nightmares who had been stripped of most of their powers and forced to live amongst everyday humans. While there are a few scenes that show that the Stories are still capable of being terrifying, they mostly seem rather ordinary now – depressed and resentful due to the loss of their former status. This was a disappointment, as they were by far one of the most interesting and memorable things about The Hazel Wood.

Anyhow, I think that covers everything. As you might be able to tell, I was rather disappointed by The Night Country. While did have some good moments, it just felt over-padded and unfocused on the whole. I was unfortunately left feeling that it was a bit of an unnecessary sequel, but this does not change how I feel about The Hazel Wood. The first book of this series is still a must-read for any fan of urban fantasy stories.

The Night Country can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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