Book Review: Cold Hillside by Nancy Baker
It is seldom that I find a book to be both predictable yet entertaining.
I enjoy reading, immensely. As a kid, I was a bookworm. I did all of my library’s summer book-reading challenges. I spent nights huddled under my blanket with a flashlight and a good book, ignoring my parents’ warning it’d ruin my eyesight. I’d tear through classics, popular fiction, fantasy…if there was a story to tell, I’d read it.
Being a person with a disability…a progressive muscle disease, I had thought that I had lost the ability to read when I lost the ability to hold most books (they’re often too heavy, though some paperbacks I can still manage if I take breaks). I can’t hold most clunky iPads or eReaders, but thanks to online formats, I have recently regained my ability to do one of my most favorite hobbies. While it’s not the same as the thrill of holding a book in my hands, it allows me to continue to read, and for that I am grateful.
It’s been an adventure, trying to find books that I would like to read, to catch up for time I lost. Reviewing books has given me a new sense of purpose. I love the chance to immerse myself in a new world, with new characters. Cold Hillside was an interesting choice. This new world seems both familiar and different. The characters were well written, well thought out, and fully developed. Well…at least most of the main characters. Some of the secondary characters, you just know them by name and who they are. They are there simply to help propel the story forward.
While I enjoyed reading Cold Hillside there were other parts of the book that I simply could not ignore. Because this is a made up world, with made up names and made up locations, some of the information was repeated over and over, ad nauseam. Baker also tells the story through two perspectives, with two protagonists, and, as such, this leads to the information being recycled, as each character reacts or learns about something. While I enjoyed the actual story, the book felt incredibly long. I also found the major plot points to be incredibly predictable. I knew what was going to happen before it did. While this did not necessarily take away the enjoyment of the story, it did make it lag, a bit.
Teresine is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read, in a while. She is the first protagonist we meet. The story follows her journey, as a young girl, from Deshiniva to the mountain hillside city of Lushan. Born into poverty, Teresine befriends the future Sidiana (Queen) of Lushan, Sarit, and eventually becomes her most trusted advisor. As Teresine is educated and joins the religious order of the Asezati, she finds her true sense of belonging, as she witnesses all of the major events and changes that Lushan goes through.
When a terrible tragedy befalls the Lushan Sidiana, something involving the debt owed to the mysterious and dangerous creatures known as the Fey, Teresine must step up and help her Queen. The debt owed comes with a steep price that sends ripples through Teresine’s life, for generations to come. The second protagonist, her great-niece, Lilit, is discovering the secrets of the past, secrets that could affect her future, and the decisions she must make about her own life. As her life and Teresine’s past intersect, all of the secrets Teresine has kept come bubbling to the surface, with a vengeance like no other.
Both Lilit and Teresine are strong female characters. The Fey are interesting, complex, and well explained. The world is incredibly immersive. However, none of the secrets shocked me, as Baker lays a foundation so thorough, it is easy to predict where she is going with this story. Unfortunately, it takes her many more pages to get to the point, which left me wanting the book to end faster. While the concept is solid, the story drags on too long. If it had gone on any longer, I feel I would have lost interest. I just wanted to know I was right about the ending, but, by the end, I was just ready for the story to be over. That’s never good for any book.
While there was so much greatness there, the fact that the book was repetitious and predictable kept me from giving it higher marks. If you enjoy a great fantasy world and strong characters, pick this one up. It’s still worth the read, even if you know what’s going to happen part of the way through it.