REVIEW: The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill by Rowenna Miller
There is no magic on Prospect Hill—or anywhere else, for that matter. But just on the other side of the veil is the world of the Fae. Generations ago, the first farmers on Prospect Hill learned to bargain small trades to make their lives a little easier—a bit of glass to find something lost, a cup of milk for better layers in the chicken coop.
Much of that old wisdom was lost as the riverboats gave way to the rail lines and the farmers took work at mills and factories. Alaine Fairborn’s family, however, was always superstitious, and she still hums the rhymes to find a lost shoe and to ensure dry weather on her sister’s wedding day.
When Delphine confides her new husband is not the man she thought he was, Alaine will stop at nothing to help her sister escape him. Small bargains buy them time, but a major one is needed. Yet, the price for true freedom may be more than they’re willing to pay.
CW – Death of an animal, on page domestic abuse
Dear Ms. Miller,
I would describe this book as lush. It’s filled with characters who are described in detail, we get a lot of information about their motivations, there are tons of historical details, and yet it takes a long time to really get going. At times it reads more like a plain historical fiction book except for – oh, yes I almost forgot – there are fairies in the story. Parts of the plot are fairly easy to guess, although I will admit that there are no glaring neon signs flashing “PLOT POINT, PLOT POINT.” Then just after things pick up, they slow down again before a coast to the end.
Many years ago, a young man on a railroad work crew meets an ethereal young woman in a dense forest which creeps up a hill. A bargain is struck for a piece of cloth and the young man obtains 50 acres of land on which he founds a family orchard. Now two generations later, two daughters have grown up to different lives and wishes. Alaine is happily married and lives to manage the apple/pear/cherry orchards while her younger sister Delphine longs for more than this. She wants a wider world and thinks she’ll get it through marriage to a rich man. The family know how to make bargains with fae for little things but warnings about straying too close to the linden tree are drummed into them. Never make a bargain for something you’re not sure of and never accept one if you’re not totally sure of the terms. Bad things have, and will, happen if you do.
I like this book. I do. But I have to agree with several other people who say that for long stretches, not much really happens. Alaine is passionate about the orchards and wants to lead the local Agricultural Society – and also rub her successes in two men’s faces. She will do a few long standing bargains for good weather, a little luck, great harvests but yeah, that’s kind of it.
Delphine loves the farm, loves the harvest, but has never seen herself as being as happy there as Alaine is. Delphine knows there is more to the big wide world and that’s what she wants. After a long and meandering lead up to her wedding, she leaves and discovers that life out there isn’t the bowl of cherries she thought she’d get. But she’s a dutiful woman in a world where women are supposed to be dutiful and she tries damn hard to be the perfect Society Hostess.
Well, it’s pretty clear that both women will have issues with what they want. But Alaine takes the harmless bargains up a notch. When she tries for much more, she gets herself, and Delphine, in far deeper than she ever dreamed. I knew what the ultimate price was going to be and that no matter how real the need was and how much Something Needed to Be Done about it, the price would break the women.
Then things got interesting. The sister who had been seemingly the stronger one almost wilted under the pressure while the one who had been fairly passive up until then showed a backbone. What they needed to do to obtain what they wanted was not going to be easy but this sister strode forward and engaged the enemy.
Oh but after that, despite the even lusher descriptions – and everything was described seemingly down to its toenails – the action in the final quarter of the book just dragged. It dragged in both places which I won’t detail to avoid spoilers. For one sister, there was a lot to learn and pieces of a puzzle to put together to get what she wanted but for the other, every day was a lot of the same again. Had all this been earlier, I might have not been able to push through but the end was in sight. And, yeah, the epilogue was a bit ho-hum as well.
I enjoyed the sisterly bonds, that each sister accepts that her dreams are not her sister’s dreams, and how each was willing to fight for the other. But there really wasn’t that much to their characterizations. Some social justice issues get layered in but they are also more window dressing than anything else. The fae world was richly drawn and imaginative but just went on far too long. If the book had been edited down and tightened up a bit, I think it would have worked better. C+