I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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 price is not met, the Queen demands the services of Teresine, a refugee.
Cold Hillside could have been written especially for me. It has so many things that just make me happy. There’s a dark, somewhat threatening atmosphere. The chapters alternate between two related women, telling their tales, and the reader gets to fit the pieces together. In the background are the Fay—and they’re not the cute, perky fairies of Disney. No, Baker goes back to European fairy tales and produces a Fairy Queen who is powerful, unpredictable, threatening, and unknowable. Most in the fairy realm don’t understand why she does things and we mere mortals must acknowledge that we are only guessing about her motivations. There is a definite hostility towards humanity.
I must confess that I had guessed one of the plot secrets quite early on, but that did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the process of the reveal. It may actually have enhanced it, as Baker played with the characters, eventually letting them know all the details too. I think the reader is expected to see it and enjoy watching Lilit struggle to find the knowledge that she needs. And Teresine is a much stronger woman than I am—I would have knuckled under much quicker than she, both at the Fairy Court and on return to Lushan.
Baker’s writing was beautiful and skillful. The story was dark and melancholic. The ending left me with questions. I adore all of those things. I will definitely be seeking out more of Baker’s fiction.