Category: Fantasy

Dragon Thief by Marc Secchia

Dragon Thief by Marc Secchia

(Cover picture courtesy of Amazon.)

Kal was not a thief. He certainly did not intend to steal any dragon’s treasure.

He was an adventurer. Avid art collector. Incurable wealth adjuster and risk-taker. Kal had legendary expertise in the security arrangements of palaces and noble houses the world over. He hankered for remote, craggy mountaintops and the dragon hoards he might find hidden beneath them. Besides, what harm was there in looking? Dragon gold was so … shiny.

Most especially, he was not planning for any treasure to steal him.

That was a little awkward, to say the least.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Dragon Thief starts with our loveable rogue Kal foolishly trying to steal a dragon’s horde and finding a gorgeous, naked woman amongst the treasure.  What’s a rogue to do?  Does he rescue her as well or is this some sort of trap set up by the dragon?  What could a dragon possibly want with some random woman?  Well, as Kal finds out there’s more to the woman than meets the eye because the woman, Tazithiel, is a Shapeshifter.  And although she’s not happy about a thief in her hoard, things take an interesting turn and the two work out a mutually beneficial truce that turns into a friendship, then something more.

Both Kal and Tazithiel have problematic pasts and both have huge trust issues.  Kal has trust issues by virtue of his chosen profession while Tazithiel has a horrific past filled with abuse because of her shapeshifter status.  Yet they come together with a fascinating goal: to find out what’s on the other side of the 25 league tall mountains that encircle the Island World.  Is there a world beyond there containing something other than islands surrounded by poisonous clouds?  What manner of creatures live beyond the Rim-Wall Mountains?  Obviously Kal and Tazi’s journey isn’t as straightforward as they’d like, but they do find answers in an interesting way by the end of the book.

Marc Secchia has brought his trademark painstaking care to world-building once again.  Not only do we learn so much more about various islands and cultures within the Island World, we learn a lot more about dragon lore and the fate of Aranya and the Sylakian Empire.  There are also more technological innovations than we saw in any of the previous books because Dragon Thief takes place 311 years after Aranya, which was the most recent book in the Island World’s long timeline.  I don’t want to give away too much, especially if you’ve read the previous books in the same world, but let’s just say some things have changed tremendously while others will never change.  Especially people/dragons.

While the beginning is a bit slow after Tazithiel decides not to eat Kal on the spot, the beautiful writing style keeps things interesting as the two new lovers work out their issues.  After that, the plot speeds up quite a bit because dragons aren’t exactly the kind of creatures that are welcome everywhere in the Island World.  And once Kal introduces Tazi to some of his friends and associates…let’s just say things get interesting as Tazi discovers a whole difference side of our thief.  Best of all, throughout the book there is Marc Secchia’s trademark humour that had me quite literally laughing out loud at some points.  So while there are some pretty heavy themes in Dragon Thief, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Although there’s no official sequel set, the ending is satisfying yet leaves a little wiggle room if Secchia wants to continue the story of Tazithiel and Kal.  Their actions have some very fascinating implications for our Island World and I can’t wait to see what he does with the new revelation about the Rim-Wall Mountains.

If you haven’t read any of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, Dragon Thief is a great place to start.  It’s funny and touching, fast-paced yet with plenty of character development and there is some incredible world-building going on here.  And if you’re already a fan like I am, Dragon Thief is a great installment in the overall story of the Island World.  It builds on what we’ve seen and learned in previous books and introduces us to both an old friend and a whole new cast of characters to love.  You really can’t ask for more.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not available until Decmber 12, the release date.

**Not available.


Like all of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, you don’t really need to read this one in a particular order.  However, it does help if you read the books in order of publication because of certain minor spoilers that crop up.  Here’s my current recommended reading order:

  1. Aranya (Shapeshifter Dragons #1)
  2. The Pygmy Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragon Legends #1)
  3. Shadow Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragons #2)
  4. Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)
  5. Dragonlove (Dragonfriend #2)

Like I said, you don’t have to read all of these books before Dragon Thief but they will certainly give you a greater appreciation of all of the mythological references contained within the book.  For example, there are references to the Pygmy Dragon, Hualiama and Aranya.  They’re easy to figure out in the context of the book but again, you’ll have a greater appreciation of just how intertwined Secchia’s various series are and how rich the mythology he’s created is if you do.  With that said, if you’ve read the first two Shapeshifter Dragon books you may want to wait until the third is out because there are some minor spoilers in the references to Aranya throughout the book.  And of course the very existence of dragons is a bit of a spoiler considering how dire Aranya’s situation is at the end of Shadow Dragon.

Mind of the Phoenix by Jamie McLachlan

Mind of the Phoenix by Jamie McLachlan

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Moira is a powerful empath, a psychic graced with the ability to read emotions and memories. Her skill is as much a curse as a gift, for in the harshly stratified city of Braxton empaths are slaves. Clever and beautiful, Moira has learned to rely on no one but herself. Determined to escape life as a concubine, she kills her master, and is imprisoned for the crime.

This could be the end for Moira, but the government has need of her skills. A mysterious serial killer known as the Phoenix has been planting suggestions in his victims’ minds that drive them to murder and suicide. To gain her freedom, Moira partners with Keenan Edwards, a handsome young detective, to stop the killer.

Hunting the Phoenix will bring Moira on a more dangerous road than she imagined, forcing her to confront dark minds, twisted moralities, and her growing feelings for the detective.

[Full disclosure: I requested and recevied a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I wasn’t really sure what I expected from Mind of the Phoenix, but it certainly exceeded whatever expectations I did have.

Moira is a truly amazing character.  She’s been a slave in a pleasure house for years until at the age of 19 she was sold off to a private owner that she then killed.  She evaded capture for 6 months before being taken into custody pending execution—until even the Elite (the powerful empaths that work with regular humans to suppress their less powerful brethren) admit they need her abilities to solve a recent spree of suicides that are likely murders.  Throughout the investigation we see Moira start to open up just a bit.  In the beginning she’s very cynical and sarcastic, both of which are clear defense mechanisms considering what she’s been through.  And then as time goes on and Keenan shows her some of the good in the world, she opens up to him a bit.  She still struggles with her inner demons and she doesn’t exactly have rose-coloured glasses on by the end of the novel but she at least softens her outlook a little bit as she sees the good in some people.

Keenan is truly an enigma.  He’s not your typical tough, silent detective type and he’s certainly not the typical bad boy type of person that you see in so much fiction now.  He’s just a man struggling with demons of his own, much like Moira.  As a detective he’s seen a lot and feels quite a bit of responsibility on his shoulders.  In a world that is clearly morally skewed, he does the best he can to be a good person.  He’s not perfect—the second scene where he holds Moira’s head under water definitely shows that—but he’s not a monster.  And he’s certainly not the type of man Moira is used to and can easily fit in one category.

Lest you think so, let me say clearly that any romance between Moira and Keenan is not the main focus of the story.  Jamie McLachlan does a great job of depicting the inner struggles of the characters while at the same time moving the plot along quite quickly.  The mysterious Phoenix is on the loose, implanting commands in people’s minds that make them commit suicide when a certain phrase is read.  How can he or she be stopped when you don’t know who you’re looking for or what their true motives are?  Moira can search through minds but not even she can undo some of the blocks the Phoenix places in them—at least not without utterly destroying the mind of the victim.  When you think you know the true identity of the Phoenix, the plot twists and you’re left wondering whether or not that person is the Phoenix.  Jamie McLachlan writes great interpersonal struggles, but she also writes one heck of a murder mystery.

If you’re looking for something a little different from the regular fantasy/speculative fiction, Mind of the Phoenix is the perfect book for you.  It has political intrigue, two separate murder mysteries and some great intrapersonal/interpersonal conflicts.  And yes, it has just a hint of romance and deals with the whole idea of putting the past behind you so you can live in the present.  Best of all, it’s extremely well-written.  You’ll be up reading into the early morning hours just like I was last night.  I can’t recommend this book enough and I really can’t wait for the next book in the Memory Collector series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Unavailable.

Spindle by W. R. Gingell

Spindle by W. R. Gingell

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

She’s not a princess . . . but then, he’s no prince.

Polyhymnia is deep in enchanted sleep. High in a tower, behind an impenetrable barrier of magical thorns, she sleeps, dreams, and falls ever deeper into her curse.

Woken by a kiss, Poly finds herself in an alien world where three hundred years have passed and everyone she has ever known is dead. Luck, the enchanter who woke her, seems to think she is the princess. Understandable, since he found her asleep on the princess’ bed, in the royal suite, and dressed in the princess’ clothes.

Who cursed Poly? Why is someone trying to kill her and Luck? Why can’t she stop falling asleep?

And why does her hair keep growing?

Sometimes breaking the curse is just the beginning of the journey.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Spindle by W. R. Gingell is almost a perfect retelling of Sleeping Beauty—almost.  Despite the amazing world-building, the characters and the plot Spindle fails in one simple way: exposition.  Or rather, lack thereof.

Now, I’m not the sort of person that loves an info-dump at the beginning of the book.  I prefer a slow revealing of the main character’s backstory and the story of the world the author has created.  But in Spindle there is an infuriatingly small trickle of information.  Poly wakes up to find a rude, somewhat forgetful wizard broke her spell and thinks she’s the princess.  She has magic hair that won’t stop growing.  She has a spindle in her pocket but can’t seem to remember that it’s there.  Poly accidentally takes them not to Luck’s (the wizard’s) village during a journey spell but to an entirely fictional world because she was holding a book.  And through it all, Luck keeps insisting she has magic while Poly blithely denies it, even though she constantly demonstrates magic.  It’s really, truly infuriating.  As I said, I don’t need a bunch of information in the beginning but Gingell leaves the readers even more confused than Poly for a minimum of 35% of the book.  Even after the 35% hurdle, things aren’t really explained adequately until the 50-60% mark, which is just a little bit ridiculous.  I can understand conveying the confusion of the main character but it just shouldn’t be this frustrating or last this long.  It was only out of sheer stubbornness that I kept reading past the first half of the book.

However, when backstory was finally revealed to us, the readers, it is fascinating.  Gingell has created an amazing world where magic is studied as a form of science but still tries to outfox even the most clever efforts to unravel its mysteries.  There are three types of ‘magic’ and all of them are very, very different.  The world Poly wakes up to is 300 years after her time and the world has definitely moved on.  The kingdom is now a republic, the fashions have significantly changed, there are two countries instead of three because of the war that started when the castle was put to sleep, etc.  She has to navigate this crazy new world with an unhelpful Luck, who seems oblivious to everything but his own studies and Onepiece, a dog who turns out to be a boy.  It’s a vibrant, imaginative world but it’s just so incredibly frustrating that instead of revealing a little bit in the beginning, we get huge amounts of information dumped on us after the 50% mark.

Poly herself is a pretty cool character.  She was just one of the princess’ ladies in waiting and was the target of most of the princess’ wrath.  But she’s stubborn and becomes more and more self-assured.  After sleeping for 300 years she’s desperate to get to the bottom of the curse and when Luck doesn’t seem to be all that interested in helping her, she tries to find out on her own despite the remnants of the curse.  Once she’s in Luck’s village she quickly adapts to modern life and tries to help the villagers deal with their absent-minded wizard who is supposed to take care of their little magical troubles (like the fact that the wild magic of the Forest keeps moving the fields).  Luck is a very frustrating character in the beginning but you do see glimpses of how smart and sweet he really is.  Poly and Luck make a very interesting duo.

Despite some weird time skips that weren’t really indicated in my Kindle copy (although that’s probably just a NetGalley formatting issue), the plot was amazing.  It’s not exactly fast-paced but there’s a lot of self-discovery and character development once you get past the information-starved beginning.  Gingell has created just an amazing world and despite my frustration with the beginning, I would absolutely love to read more about Poly and Luck or even just about other characters in this world.  W. R. Gingell has a great thing going here but the beginning is a huge deterrant to prospective readers.  It’s hard to convey but despite the rough beginning I really, really loved this book and if my review has intrigued you at all, I would encourage you to give Spindle a try.  It’s far better than many fairytale retellings I’ve come across.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe. Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter,19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

One of the many things Michael Schmicker does well in The Witch of Napoli is bring to life the late Victorian era.  He brings to life the grubbiness and beauty of Italy’s cities and its countryside.  He absolutely captures the obsession with bringing the scientific method into every aspect of life that used to be taken for granted, particularly the spiritual side of life.  And best of all, he captures the individual struggles and triumphs of his various characters beautifully.  Even if you don’t like the narrator, Tomaso, you will find at least one character to love and for me that was Alessandra herself.

Alessandra is a fiery woman who believes absolutely in the spirits she summons.  She’s opinionated and she doesn’t take kindly to insults, perceived or real.  And because of her fiery temper, she is also passionate in both love and hatred.  Her story is fabulous and she really does grow as a charcter throughout the novel.  Despite the fact her story is told through Tomaso’s eyes (the young reporter and photographer who follows her around), Alessandra herself is never secondary.  There are a lot of times her personality outshines Tomaso’s, although that may just be from my perspective.  Don’t get me wrong—Tomaso is not a bad or even a boring character.  It’s just that Alessandra absolutely outshines him.  Tomaso goes from a wide-eyed young man to a somewhat cynical, yet hopeful man who learns to find his way in life.

The plot is not exactly fast-paced but Michael Schmicker’s writing style is beautiful and he lavishes time on character development.  At the same time, there are many interesting plots and subplots and some pretty terrifying scenes when Alessandra calls on the spirits.  So it’s an interesting book but it’s not fast-paced.  The only reason I was somewhat disappointed in this book is that the ending was very unsatisfying.  I would have loved for a less abrupt conclusion, even though I knew that such a conclusion was inevitable.  The abrupt ending just leaves you rather empty in comparison to the rest of the novel, which spends more time on most major plot points.  It’s not enough to make me dislike the plot as a whole but it was a little disappointing after the masterful twists and turns that were well explained earlier in the book.

In the end, The Witch of Napoli is an amazing book that fell a little flat in the end.  There are some absolutely amazing charcters and great plot twists in addition to a beautiful writing style.  I would absolutely still recommend it to anyone who loves a taste of the supernatural in their novels or anyone who just loves an amazing main character.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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An Immortal Descent by Kari Edgren

An Immortal Descent by Kari Edgren

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Selah Kilbrid, descendant of the Celtic goddess Brigid, has been ordered to remain in London and leave any dangers in Ireland to her goddess-born family. They fear she’s no match for Death’s most powerful daughter and—if the legend holds true—the witch who once nearly destroyed the Irish people. But Selah has never been good at following orders, and nothing will stop her from setting out to find the two people she loves most—her dearest friend, Nora Goodwin, and her betrothed, Lord Henry Fitzalan.

Hiding from kin, traveling uneasily beside companions with secrets of their own, Selah is forced on an unexpected path by those who would steal her gift of healing. With precious time ticking away, she turns to a mortal enemy for help, heedless of the cost.

Selah would pass though hell to rescue Nora and Henry, but what if it means unleashing a greater evil on the human world? Her only chance is to claim the fullest extent of her birthright—at the risk of being forever separated from the man she longs to marry.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

It took me much longer than expected to finally get to An Immortal Descent, the last book in the Goddess Born trilogy, but I finally did.  And I’m very, very glad I did.

The second book ended on a cliffhanger with Selah’s friend Nora being kidnapped by Deri, the daughter of Cailleach who can kill people just by touching them.  So Selah has to travel to Ireland, where Deri has taken her friend for a possible ritual sacrifice. Of course the journey doesn’t go very smoothly as we discover that Cailleach has more than just one child on the loose and that perhaps not all of Brigid’s children use their gifts for good as Selah does.  There are plenty of twists and turns on Selah’s journey with a surprising yet satisfying ending.  Even better, the plot is relatively fast-paced considering just how much information and character development Kari Edgren puts into her novel.

What I really loved about An Immortal Descent was the expanded mythology of the goddess born.  As we learn, Cailleach and Brigid certainly aren’t the only ones to have descendants in the human world, even if they do seem to be the most prolific.  There are others like Nuada, Balor and Lugh whose descendants have motivations of their own and unique powers.  And unlike with descendants of Brigid and Cailleach, their powers aren’t always immediately apparent.  It certainly makes for a few surprises throughout the novel.

Another satisfying bit was the character development of Selah.  She’s come a long way from the first book but it’s only really now that she’s truly learning to trust her instincts when it comes to her healing powers.  Selah tries to do things she never would have in terms of healing in the first book (like reattaching a certain idiot’s hand).  And she’s becoming more self-possessed, more willing to challenge Henry on his seemingly increasing penchant for violence.  She stands up to people like Julian, James and Cate more than she did in the last book and finally takes fate into her own hands.  It’s a wonderful transformation from the generally shy yet still feisty woman we met in the first book.

Although Henry doesn’t play as big of a role in this book as he did in previous ones, he’s still present and he’s definitely a changed man.  Despite his penchant for violence and his hot temper, he listens to Selah and values her opinion.  Even when he completely disagrees with her, he at least listens before taking action.  And now Henry isn’t as blind to the motivations of those around him.  He realizes that James completely mistreated Selah and that Julian is a growing danger (not just a romantic rival), despite ostensibly being on the side of the other goddess born like Tom and Cate.  When he and Selah are together, they make a very well balanced couple and they’re one of my favourite book couples of all time.

If you enjoyed the previous two books, Goddess Born and A Grave Inheritance, you’ll love An Immortal Descent.  It’s a satisfying conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable trilogy.  I can’t wait to see more from Kari Edgren in the coming years.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not available.

Queen of the Deep by Kay Kenyon

Queen of the Deep by Kay Kenyon(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

On the streets of New York, Jane Gray meets an intriguing man who claims to be the impossible: an imaginary playmate from her childhood: Prince Starling. Determined to know the truth, Jane tracks him into another realm.

This is the world of the Palazzo, a magical ship which is both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom. Ruling over its denizens–both human and otherwise–is an exotic and dangerous queen. Jane must find her way home, but the path is hopelessly lost.

Promising romance, the enigmatic Prince Starling and big-hearted crime lord Niccolo vie for Jane’s heart. But she has her eye on the pilot house. Who–or what–guides the Palazzo, and what is the urgent secret of its endless voyage? As a shocking destination looms into view, Jane must choose both a lover and a ship’s course, one that may avoid the end of all things.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

First off, don’t let the perceived love triangle in the blurb fool you.  Queen of the Deep is a magnificent story where a stereotypical love triangle really, really isn’t all that it appears to be.  And that really goes for the whole book: when you think you’re certain of one aspect of the world Kay Kenyon has created, you find your assumptions are wrong.  It’s a really amazing book in that respect.

Obviously, what I loved about Queen of the Deep is the world-building.  At first it seems like Kenyon went for the whole ‘met mysterious man at a young age, meets him later and is attracted to him’ trope but as I hinted, that’s really not the case.  And when Jane Gray ventures from New York city to the floating world of the Palazzo, very little is as it seems.  Kenyon leaves tiny hints for clever readers to pick up on, but for the most part I was so entranced by her writing style that I didn’t notice all of the little hints until the various plot twists actually happened.  Then it made sense why the Queen of the Palazzo, Diamonde was so interested in Jane and why Prince Starling saved Jane’s life, etc.

The Palazzo is a magical Renaissance-inspired floating ship that no one on board thinks is a ship.  When Jane arrives on it, she’s warned not to mention that she can see over the side of the ship into the water because no one else can and they’ll think she’s crazy.  While this is very odd, the reasons for why Jane can see it are absolutely fascinating.  I can’t really go too much in depth about the Palazzo without spoiling so many of the amazing plot twists, but let’s just say that the ship (much like the characters) isn’t all that it appears to be.  It will certainly surprise you throughout the story, particularly at the end.

Jane is a very interesting character.  Normally aspiring actresses are so stereotypical but Jane really transcends the usual clichés.  She’s broke but she works a second job and actually studies her craft rather than whining about not getting any parts.  She goes to auditions and tries hard which actally serves her quite well when she finds herself on board the Palazzo and must start her life from scratch again.  In the beginning Jane can be a bit blind to the motivations of those around her but she definitely shifts her worldview as she learns that sometimes the obvious villains are actually on her side and that apparently kind people can be cruel.  She really does grow as a person throughout the story and because of that, the ending was very satisfying.

The only possible downside to this book is that it’s not exactly fast-paced.  It’s very interesting and Kenyon’s writing style is absolutely enchanting but if you’re looking for a thriller, this isn’t the book for you.  I had a bit of a hard time getting oriented when Jane came on board the Palazzo but in the end I actually enjoyed the confusion because I got to learn along with Jane rather than knowing more than her and getting frustrated at her perceived incompetence.  Really, this is just a fascinating book with plenty of plot twists and great writing.  You don’t need an extremely fast-paced plot for a book like this.

If you enjoy fantasy and are interested in trying something new for a change, Queen of the Deep is definitely the book for you.  It will surprise you, as it certainly surprised me.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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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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