Stars: 5 out of 5.
With Cold Hillside Nancy Baker managed to step away from the fae stereotype plaguing most of recent fantasy and paranormal books who depict a romanticized version of the fair folk: beautiful, mysterious, and a good romantic interest for the protagonist. Nancy Baker depicts a whole other version of the fae, which is much closer to the original legends and could be summarized by one sentence:
With them, there are no happy endings.
Yes, they are beautiful, but so is a coral snake or a poisonous flower, and both will kill you without pity or remorse. They are mysterious and alien and immortal, yes. They also consider us mortals as toys. Fascinating sometimes, but easily broken and discarded. I like this depiction of the fae better, maybe because that’s how they were portrayed in the fairy tales I grew up with.
But the fae are not the only reason I gave this book five stars. A book would be nothing without engaging characters and an interesting story, and Cold Hillside has both in heaps. Because while the fae are present in the book and have an important influence on the events, this story is about the mortal people.
I loved the depiction of Lushan, this big city clinging to the cold side of a mountain and whose inhabitants still manage to thrive in these unforgiving conditions. You can see that a lot of work had gone into creating this cold and unforgiving world and the culture of the people who live in it. But it’s masterfully inserted into the story itself, so that it never feels like an info dump. Lushan reminded me a little of Tibet, while Deshiniva where Teresine is from, would be more like India.
Speaking of Teresine and the other protagonist in this book, her great-grandniece Lilith, it’s rare that we get truly strong women as protagonists, so this book was an absolute treat! Way too often, I have come across “strong” heroines that constantly needed rescued by their male love interests. Or who were totally rude and lacking basic social skills.
Both Teresine and Lilith are strong and self-sufficient women the way I like them: they don’t rely on others to deal with their problems; they don’t waste time on bemoaning the unfairness of their condition; they accept the consequences of the often dire situations they find themselves in and manage to adapt and survive, and even carve a little bit of happiness and inner peace in the process.
It was refreshing to see them struggle and sometimes fail, but always get back up and keep on fighting. And it was refreshing to see the fae depicted not as good or bad, but just totally different.
And I won’t say another word about the story of Cold Hillside, because I want to avoid spoilers, and because the unraveling of the story is part of the delightful experience that is this book. But I would say that it’s definitely worth picking up for your holiday reads.
P.S. This review is for the advanced copy of the book I received from NetGalley.