Alissa has never been accepted by the people around her parents' foothills farm, as her mother is from the plains, and her father from the foothills. There is fierce rivalry and much prejudice between the tradesmen of the plains and the farmers of the foothills and intermarriage between the peoples is frowned upon, and the offspring of such unions are treated as outcasts.
Alissa's father has been missing since she was five, and now, at nearly twenty, her mother is sending her away, claiming she needs to find the mystical Hold and learning to use her latent magical powers. Alissa doesn't believe in magic, and is crushed, but has no choice but to set off. She has to make her way through the mountains before the first snows fall, and see if the mythical Masters and Keepers of the Hold can shed some light on her father's disappearance and her own supposed heritage. Accompanying her is Talon, her tiny kestrel, who guards her fiercely despite her diminutive size and warns her of dangers.
Having fallen into a ravine looking for water, Alissa is saved by Strell, a wandering minstrel who has is trying to make his way to the coast. Strell is from the plains, and has been travelling for years, collecting stories and music. He discovers that his entire family has been wiped out in a flood five years earlier, and no longer has any true home or connection. At first, he is suspicious of the clearly half-blood foothills girl, and he and Alissa get off to a bad start. As they are going the same way, however, they decide to travel together and quickly become friends.
Alissa is unaware that the Hold is nearly empty, with only one crazy former Keeper having sent all the Masters on a pointless quest far away, and killed the other Keepers. Only one Master is left, trapped in the dungeons. Bailic, the ex-Keeper is an old friend of Alissa's father, and wants a legendary magic book, First Truth, which was given to Alissa's dad by his teacher. Bailic has dreams of world domination, and quickly realizes that one of the two strangers that show up to the Hold can help him find the book he needs to achieve his goal. But he is unable to figure out whether it's Alissa or Strell who have the latent magical abilities. Alissa and Strell need to try to find the book before Bailic gets to it, and stay safe during the winter, hoping Bailic doesn't kill them too.
I had read both of Dawn Cook's Princess books (The Decoy Princess, Princess at Sea) before I discovered that the author is also Kim Harrison, an author whose paranormal fantasy series I've been reading and loving for years. As far as I can tell, she started writing traditional, vaguely romantic fantasy and did OK, but never became particularly successful. Then she created her paranormal series under the pen name Kim Harrison, and became a several times bestselling author. Ace has recently republished her Truth books pointing out that the authors are one and the same, but the new covers are absolutely awful, and I'm glad I was able to get the classic covers.
The first book (in a series of four) is mostly setup, and the friendship between Alissa and Strell is slowly developing into something more romantic, but anyone wanting a passionate love story, should possibly pick something else. Nor is this a very epic fantasy story, but a nicely paced little adventure tale. I'm looking forward to reading the next three.