Have I got something for you. There has been a lot of buzz in the past couple years about fairytale retellings, sure. But Melissa Albert takes it a step further yet. This is a newtelling (new-telling? New Telling?) – a wholly new world, The Hinterland, which we learn about from the character searching for the book within the book.
People. The booklove in this book! This is literally a bookfreak’s dream come true.
But I digress.
What is so arresting about this book is its immediacy. It is almost magical realism in its here-and-now-ness. We are in modern day New York City. Our MC has current problems. Her cell phone is dead. Her stepdad is a jerk. Her stepsister is a bitch (who makes her feel like “an awkward breadstick”). Okay. We’ve all been there. In bits and pieces, we get more of the story, more of her story – the midnight runs, the near misses. Her mother. The weird stuff that seems to explode around them. Why?
And her name… wait for it… is Alice.
I love it. Everything about this story felt so right on.
And while we are in modern New York City, yet… there is something, just a hair’s breath away, just over a slight border, one you cannot see, just waiting. The Hinterland. And that, my friends, is where Alice must go to find her mom. Whether the Hinterland is a place or a people, we aren’t sure.
There is unexpected help, there is unexpected danger. All around. It is endemic to the fairytale. Wait. The stories. Danger is endemic to the plurality of stories that exist in this other land.
I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, because it’s just that good. But you can get a synopsis from anywhere. What I’d like to tell you about is the beauty of the way this was put together, the intricacy of it, and the wild success of it. Albert has come up with a whole new realm, and folks, she’s going to take us there. I was excited reading this, excited like the first time-reading-Harry Potter excited. Because everything felt imaginative and whole.
As good as the storytelling is, the writing is even better. One of the things that I loved so much right away about Harry Potter was the wordplay. Albert scores hit after hit on that. Albert sings when she is putting us in Alice’s memories: the way a book is evocative of the place you first read it. The way that smells are colors and sounds are food. Waylan Jennings is whisky and a suit is an exhausted brown. This is what makes a story stick.
Things like this, one of the best list paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:
“Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed-together detritus that becomes what you call your life.
But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, til all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads.” – p130
Alice is worth our time, too. She climbs into bed with The Blind Assassin, “because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.” She doesn’t like her stepdad because, among other things, he doesn’t read the right books. She tamps down an anger she doesn’t understand with “hippie shit” her mother teaches her, and once called, she is laser-focused on her goal.
And Alice has a friend. Finch wears an expression like armor, one that seals him off from the world and protects him from… what, exactly? He is a superfan, one of the few who has read the book Alice’s grandmother wrote, and who has a deep appreciation for story. (And he wants to go home at one point, “because that’s where my first editions are.” Don’t we love this sweet little cinnamon roll?) I was really getting a soft spot for Finch.
Let’s not forget Ella. Ella in all this is more than just the crazy mom who married up, the waitress who can beguile a rich guy. The daughter of the woman who wrote the tales of the Hinterland down. Ella has guts. Ella is bad-ass her damn self. But we don’t get much of her story.
The three of them do a kind of dance with The Hinterland, each for their own reasons. And along the way, we get bits and pieces of the stories of the Hinterland. Oh, by the way, we’re getting those in full, too. It has just been announced that Albert will be releasing two more books – one will be the actual Tales of the Hinterland (squeeee!) (presumably the book that Althea, Ella’s mother, wrote in the first place) and the other will be set in the same world, a follow-up to this one. So we have Hinterland for the next two years!
So yes, Leigh Bardugo wrote original, imaginative fairytales set in her fantasy world (The Language of Thorns was my top pick for 2017). And Lev Grossman gave us a doorway into a hidden world through an alleyway. But this is like Ravka meets Brakebills. Except that school is the least of our worries. And the world feels as real as your own backyard. So it’s not a retelling – it’s new. We get it first.
Go on, get this one. But a note here: the author posted that some bookstores had put the book out early, and asked people to hold off on buying it until Jan 30. Please, booksellers, don’t skirt a Strict on Sale date. And readers, if you know a book is out early, wait to buy it. I know, it’s hard. But it could make that small difference for where – or whether – a book lands on the New York Times bestseller list, among other things. And this one is sure to land there, somewhere. Help it land higher by buying it during release week. On-sale date is January 30. Set an alert.
Because I forgot to mention, in case you can’t tell from my Bookstagram photo above, that this book is gorgeous in and of itself! I have heard the final copy does not disappoint – gold foil, embossing, just everything. The ARC is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I can’t wait to get my final copy!
Oh, and five stars on GoodReads! I don’t usually give stars, but I think that I will start doing that for all my reviews on GoodReads this year. Just as an experiment. I wrestle with anything less than five stars. But maybe it will help people decide what to read, and help authors I love. Come find me there!
Happy New Year!