Cold Hillside by Nancy Baker

Cold Hillside by Nancy Baker(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

“With them, there are no happy endings.”

In the remote city of Lushan, they know that the Fey are not fireside tales but a dangerous reality.

Generations ago, the last remnants of a dying empire bargained with the Faerie Queen for a place of safety in the mountains and each year the ruler of Lushan must travel to the high plateau to pay the city’s tribute. When an unexpected misfortune means that the traditional price is not met, the Queen demands the services of Teresine, once a refugee slave and now advisor to the Sidiana. Teresine must navigate the treacherous politics of the Faerie Court, where the Queen’s will determines reality and mortals are merely pawns in an eternal struggle for power.

Years later, another young woman faces an unexpected decision that forces her to discover the truth of what happened to Teresine in the Faerie Court, a truth that could threaten everything she loves.

From the acclaimed author of The Night Inside and A Terrible Beauty comes a new novel about the price of safety and the cost of power.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy from the publisher at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

It was not immediately apparent to me that Cold Hillside was going to be a great book.  Why?  Because the first few chapters are quite disorienting as you get used to the incredible world Nancy Baker brings to life.  It’s so similar to our own that it could be an alternate Earth and yet there are so many cultural differences that it’s very jarring.  While you may be confused by all of the proper nouns thrown at you in the beginning like I was, if you stick with the novel it is absolutely worth it.

Basically, Cold Hillside follows Lilit and Teresine, Lilit’s great-aunt.  In the beginning we focus on Lilit and her desperate attempt to go to the mysterious fair where the other apprentices go to sell the wares of their houses (which are essentially guilds).  She manages to wheedle her way into going despite her mother Amaris’ firm objections because while she belongs to the house of Kerias, she is apprenticed to House Auster, a jewelry-making house.  When she gets to the fair, she realizes that maybe it’s not all that it was cracked up to be.  In between Lilit’s chapters in the beginning we slowly start to learn of her great-aunt Teresine’s journey from Jayasita to her current home in Lushan.  As the novel progresses, Teresine’s story takes over the narrative (as it should and this transition happens quite naturally) as we learn some of the amazing and horrific events in her past.  We learn of how she came into the service of the Sidiana of Lushan (the Queen) and how she ended up at the Faerie Court for a full year because of one tiny mistake.

Teresine’s story really is the main story of the novel and it is absolutely fascinating.  It shows the fey in a way that Lilit doesn’t get to see because Teresine was so intimately involved with them.  Nancy Baker does such a great job of balancing the beauty of the Faerie Court and the fey with their viciousness and cunning.  They’re very capricious, just like in the older myths.  And while Teresine finds love of a sort, as the book’s tagline suggests there are no happy endings when it comes to the fey.  Since Teresine really captures your heart as a three dimensional character who goes through so much, you’ll be hooked from the start until the finish.  She really has an incredible life and her life leaves a very notable mark on the life of her grand-niece Lilit, who has to struggle with some important decisions of her own at the end of the novel.  I can’t really say much more without giving things away, but let’s just say that the man Teresine meets at the court, Daen, is not at all what he seems.  And it’s Daen that really lends the book its mysterious title, Cold Hillside.

Despite my confusion in the beginning, Nancy Baker’s writing style sucks you into the world of Lushan and the Faerie Court.  You feel the characters’ struggles along with them and want them to get the happy endings they deserve (even if you know that they’re probably not going to get those happy endings since the fey are involved).   She does such a great job of portraying the dark and light sides of the fey and that’s echoed in the writing itself.  Baker writes scenes of extreme beauty and extreme horror and I can’t tell you how well the cover captures the feeling of the novel.  It may not make much sense when you first see it, but by the end you’ll appreciate just how accurately it captures the feeling of Cold Hillside.

If you love unique fantasy with amazing characters and more than a few plot twists, I can’t recommend this book enough.  I almost passed over it at Book Expo America but something made me take it anyway and I’m very glad for that.  Teresine and Lilit will capture your heart and Nancy Baker’s unique writing style will make you enjoy their personal journeys even more.  If you love fantasy, you should really pick up Cold Hillside.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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