Book Review: The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill by Rowenna Miller
Buy The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill here
OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Rowenna Miller is the author of the Unraveled Kingdom trilogy and The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill, as well as short fiction. She is also the cohost of the Hugo-nominated podcast Worldbuilding for Masochists, an English professor, and a fairly handy seamstress. She lives in Indiana with her husband, two daughters, four cats, two goats, and an ever-growing flock of chickens.
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: In the early 1900s, two sisters must navigate the magic and the dangers of the Fae in this enchanting and cozy historical fantasy about sisterhood and self-discovery.
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.
FORMAT/INFO: The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill was published by Redhook Books in
March 2023, and contains 416 pages. It is available in paperback, audio and ebook formats.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This book is severely underrated.
It is a tale focused on two sisters from a family in Prospect Hill, a place where the veil between the human world and the far one is thinner than most other places, set in 1900’s America. Elaine, the elder sister, runs the family farm, and the other, Delphine, looks towards moving to a place where she can come to her own. The story begins with telling the tale of how their family came to acquire the farm and their present worsening financial situation, as they prepare for the letters wedding to an upper class man. Both of them end up in situations that they would love to work their way out of, and end up making increasingly risky bargains with the fairies in the process.
First, let’s set some expectations. This is not a book that contains magic and fae-bargains all over the place. I feel they’re present a considerable amount, but this is mostly a story that focuses on the sisters’ situations, and one that slowly raises their personal stakes in order to provide sufficient motivation for the bargains they continue to foolishly make. Add in some complicated sibling and family dynamics, along with political issues relevant to the time period it is set in, as well as a bargain that goes very wrong (nothing new), and that’s what you can expect of this read.
For me, the highlight would be the slow pace, and the family relationships. Rowenna Miller does a good job of showing us what the siblings deal with as time passes, and provides more than sufficient reasons to sympathise with them. Yes, they’re opposites in many ways and want different things, and that’s not uncommon in books, but the balance between their disagreements and the concern they show for each other in different scenarios was perfect for me. I don’t think I’ve read another book that explores a woman’s pre-wedding reservations, as well as her anticipation to setup her new home as well.
There’s a healthy amount of political talk relevant to the 1900s, mainly classism, sexism, and the idea of separating a woman’s identity and politics from that of her husband’s. Delphine’s situation is great depiction of helplessness at being backed into a corner by social standing, as well as the legal system, and the author portrays her conflicting feelings well, as she wildly oscillates from feeling like she made an irrecoverable mistake with her choice of suitor and everything that led up to the wedding, to convincing herself that she has a long way to go to be a good wife. It was lovely to see the siblings work with each other to make some of their battles easier, and, the stark difference that Delphine displayed in her behaviour when she was with her abusive husband versus when she felt free of him was impeccably done. Some of my favourite chapters are the ones where Alaine’s husband is protective of Delphine, and the ones that display Delphine’s concern for her niece.
If you want to see some intersection between the human and the fae, be assured it exists, and some of the pages that depict of their world are as awe-inducing as they are frightening. The underlying themes here focus on the irreversible impacts of industrialisation and the rapid pace of modern development on nature.
Despite enjoying most aspects of the book, I find myself finding the page length a bit much. I don’t have any complaints with the slow pace, and won’t even be able to tell you what parts of the book could have been trimmed down for a more concise read, but I just wish that some of them were. Another small issue I had was that the siblings had a pretty easy redeeming arc, given all the selfish choices they made.
CONCLUSION: The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill is a historical fantasy offering that portrays complicated family dynamics well, and slowly raises the stakes for the main characters until it turns into an adventure. It goes over familiar lore with the fair folk, and while it could do with a bit whittling down, it is a story I found quite immersive, and I enjoyed my time with it.