Prospect Hill is a place where the veil between worlds is thin, where mortals leave out pieces of glass and bits of brilliantly colored string for the Fae in exchange for a bit of luck or good weather. But none save for the most foolhardy—or the most uninformed—dare make larger deals than that, let alone directly communicate with the Fae. Small bargains have helped sisters Alaine and Delphine build a life they cherish with their family, granting them good weather, good harvests and the very land they cultivate. But times are changing.
Delphine has recently married the heir of a glass manufacturing empire but is finding it difficult to make inroads into the high society she’s always wanted to be a part of. Her husband, who was commanding but full of appreciation for her when they were engaged, has since revealed himself to be cruel and controlling. The family orchard, once prosperous, has defaulted on its mortgage payments and is one misstep away from failure. To save her sister and the farm, Alaine knows that she’ll need more than small trades and good luck. She’ll have to make an enormous bargain with the Fae and pray that the safety of her family is worth the cost.
The opening act of Rowenna Miller’s The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill is lyrical and sedately paced, feeling more like historical fiction than a fantasy novel. But as the family’s situation worsens and the deals begin to stack up, magic begins to run amok and things spiral into chaos. The broader literary landscape may be swamped with more romanticized versions of fairies, but Miller’s Fae are dangerous and fickle, reminiscent of the cruel fairy kings of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or the dark creatures that lurk at the edges of traditional folklore.
But no matter how powerful its Fae may be, The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill reminds us that even magic cannot change what is in a person’s soul. Delphine’s husband’s abuse and the orchard’s financial worries are wrenching portrayals of the cycles of self-delusion that can accompany a looming crisis. The masterful balance of the uncanny and the inhumanly strange with complex, realistic issues makes The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill a powerful, if at times difficult, read.