Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Touched by a very public tragedy, musician Rob Quillen comes to Cloud County, Tennessee, in search of a song that might ease his aching heart. All he knows of the mysterious and reclusive Tufa is what he has read on the internet: they are an enigmatic clan of swarthy, black-haired mountain people whose historical roots are lost in myth and controversy. Some people say that when the first white settlers came to the Appalachians centuries ago, they found the Tufa already there. Others hint that Tufa blood brings special gifts.
Rob finds both music and mystery in the mountains. Close-lipped locals guard their secrets, even as Rob gets caught up in a subtle power struggle he can’t begin to comprehend. A vacationing wife goes missing, raising suspicions of foul play, and a strange feral girl runs wild in the woods, howling in the night like a lost spirit.
Change is coming to Cloud County, and only the night wind knows what part Rob will play when the last leaf falls from the Widow’s Tree…and a timeless curse must be broken at last.”
My husband and I are in agreement on the following fact: we like Bledsoe’s Tufa novels as much as or more than Charles de Lint’s Newford novels, and that is saying something. De Lint is the god of urban fantasy, which means that Bledsoe must be inducted into the pantheon along with him, because wow. Just wow. Given that this is supposed to be a review, I suppose I should go beyond “wow” no matter how perfect and expressive that one word is.
The thing is, trying to describe what is so great about Wisp of a Thing is like trying to describe that really great song that is stuck in your head but that the person you’re talking to hasn’t heard. The novel is about music, so this is appropriate, but ultimately not helpful. It’s nigh unto impossible to convey with words what music makes you feel and think, and I have much the same problem with how I feel about this book.
I think what it boils down to is that this story feels very real, very down to earth. The characters are people—not ones that you know, because they’re too unusual for that, but people that you wish you could run into in real life. In a few instances, it’s more like “people you wouldn’t want to run into no matter what”, but the idea is the same. You believe in these characters, and you believe that they do exist somewhere just beyond your sight.
The setting is also heavily grounded in reality. I don’t know if Bledsoe based Needsville and its environs on an actual place, but it certainly feels like it. I think we’ve all had the experience of feeling that a location had a presence, something that speaks to us because it’s a place that we grew up or a place where something significant happened. Needsville, the mountains around it, the trees and the caves and the lakes, all have that kind of feel. It’s not that it will be familiar to you, more than likely; rather, it’s that you know somehow that these are places important to someone. If you’re like me, you’d like to explore them and find out what’s so important in person.
All that said, I haven’t been able to pin down exactly what it is about this series that draws me in so deeply and makes the story so engrossing. Perhaps the author is exercising a bit of benevolent magic of his own. For me, Wisp of a Thing casts a spell that I wanted to last long after I turned the final page. Mr. Bledsoe, please write more about the Tufa, and please write faster. This series is like fairy wine: one taste and you’re captured.