The Hum and the Shiver
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Alex Bledsoe is one of fantasy’s most underrated authors. He’s been quietly exploring different aspects of fantasy while most of you haven’t been looking. He’s tackled sword and sorcery, and he’s written about vampires, but now he’s written his finest novel to date: The Hum and the Shiver, a novel deeply rooted in music and in the mystery of a lost people.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, yet when the first Europeans arrived, they were already there. Dark-haired, enigmatic, and suspicious of outsiders, the Tufa live quiet lives in the hills and valleys of Cloud County. While their origins may be lost to history, there are clues in their music—hints of their true nature buried in the songs they have passed down for generations.
Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns from Iraq wounded in body and in spirit, only to face the very things that drove her away in the first place: her family, her obligations to the Tufa, and her dangerous ex-boyfriend. But more trouble lurks in the mountains and hollows of her childhood home. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, and a restless “haint” lurks nearby, waiting to reveal Bronwyn’s darkest secrets. Worst of all, Bronwyn has lost touch with the music that was once a vital part of her identity.
With death stalking her family, Bronwyn will need to summon the strength to take her place among the true Tufa and once again fly on the night winds. . . .”
There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it has many different layers. On the one hand, Bledsoe has re-imagined the classic and well-known myths of the Irish fairies. Known as the Tuatha de Dannan, their tales are many and various, and transplanting them to the Appalachian Mountains gives them a breath of fresh air. In fact, for the most part, the Tufa are normal people. They guard their privacy and keep their beliefs secret, and it’s only upon getting to know them better that you begin to see the signs that they are more than you think. The reveal of these characteristics is slow and subtle, and the gradual picture suits the laid-back setting.
On another level, the novel follows a soldier’s recovery from war. The author has made some interesting choices in the creation of Bronwyn: a female soldier injured in war; brutally tortured but with no recollection of it; rebellious and yet a member of the military. These seeming contradictions all harmonize into a unique young woman, one that I would love to sit down and chat with… or perhaps go out with her for a drink.
On another level (related to the previous one), this is a story about music and its power to move us, to bring people together, and to heal the wounded soul. Music is all-important to the Tufa, and Bronwyn’s loss of her music speaks volumes about her state of mind and how much she has—and hasn’t—healed. Her journey to rediscover her skill, to get back in touch with her music, is essentially a quest to find her voice. As someone who is shown to be unsure of her place in the world, this is a vital and important journey for Bronwyn. Even the author’s language and choice of words emphasizes the musicality of these people. It’s another bit of subtlety that you may not even notice how it influences the novel’s tone.
Yet another layer is a coming of age tale. Throughout the novel, we learn about Bronwyn and what kind of person she was as a youth, rebellious and wild. Upon her return, she’s forced to confront her responsibilities to her family and to her community. It’s a subject that we all have to face at one point or another, and thus it’s one that everybody can relate to. Not only do we all have to figure out our place in society, but we also have to find who we are and what we hold dear. It’s rarely easy, and Bronwyn’s struggles resonate with keen intensity.
Take all of these elements together and you have a novel of splendid beauty and heartbreaking intensity. The Hum and the Shiver ranks with the finest fantasy novels on the shelf today. Atmospheric and filled with a music all its own, it’s one that shouldn’t be missed. I sincerely hope Bledsoe writes more novels about the Tufa, because I’ll be the first in line to pick them up and recommend them to anyone that will stand still long enough.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on October 12, 2011.