The Hum and the Shiver: Demonstrates Bledsoe’s versatility

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAlex Bledsoe Tufa 1. The Hum and the ShiverThe Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

The Tufa are a clan of black-haired natives who live in the Smoky Mountains. They keep to themselves, stay close to home, and have some strange beliefs and mysterious habits. Much to the disappointment of Craig Chess, the enthusiastic young Methodist preacher, every single one of them refuses to come to church.

Chess gets to know the Tufa a little better when Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns to Cloud County as a war hero. She was captured and tortured in Iraq and has come home to recover. All of America is worshipping Bronwyn, but the Tufa don’t seem impressed. They’re much more concerned about the death omens they’ve been noticing recently and the ghost that’s been waiting for Bronwyn. A death in the Hyatt family could affect the entire future of the Tufa tribe. Will Bronwyn step up and take her place in the Tufa clan, or will she continue to be the rebellious troublemaker she was before she joined the army?

Alex Bledsoe is one of my favorite “new” authors — I adore his Eddie LaCrosse series — so I was eager to read The Hum and the Shiver and I was not disappointed. It is a totally different type of novel from those he’s previously published and it demonstrates Bledsoe’s impressive versatility. While the LaCrosse books have a medieval setting, a fast pace, and a witty hard-boiled style, The Hum and the Shiver is set in modern America and is more contemplative and serious. Both series are written in Bledsoe’s clear straightforward style with realistic dialogue and believable characters.

The Hum and the Shiver is a truly well-written novel and I think many readers will consider it superior to Bledsoe’s previous books. While I recognize its worth, I still didn’t enjoy The Hum and the Shiver as much as I’ve enjoyed the LaCrosse series. This is mostly because I loved Eddie LaCrosse, but I didn’t like many of the major characters in The Hum and the Shiver. Bronwyn is angry and unpleasant and, before she became a war hero, was best known for her lingual skills (and I’m not talking about speeches). Her old boyfriend, Dwayne, is a “hillbilly fuckup” who grows his own pot. He’s always stoned, drunk, horny, and looking for a fight or a lay. I completely believed in these characters, but since they behaved like high school potheads, I just didn’t like being around them. The only character I did like was Craig Chess, the preacher. He was such a great character that he almost made up for the rest of them. (It’s nice to see a Christian pastor so well treated by his author creator, by the way — they are so often just stock cliché characters in a fantasy novel.)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI had a hard time believing in the relationship that developed at the end of The Hum and the Shiver, but at the same time I’m interested to see where Bledsoe is taking this story. I am expecting to see some major development for Bronwyn in the next installment and she may yet win me over. I will definitely tune in to find out.

Tor sent me a print copy of The Hum and the Shiver but I waited for Blackstone Audio’s version because I love the narrator, Stefan Rudnicki. I am always pleased with his performances and sometimes I’ll even choose books just because he’s narrating them. The chapters from a female point of view were read by Emily Janice Card, protégé of Rudnicki and daughter of Orson Scott Card. This was my first experience with Ms. Card though I own, but haven’t read, several other books she’s narrated. I thought she was terrific and look forward to listening to her read her father’s books soon.

~Kat Hooper


fantasy and science fiction book reviews“…One night you’ll go outside, look up at the sky, and either hear the hum or feel the shiver. If it’s the shiver… well, you’re still kin and I love you, but it means you’ll never be a real Tufa. If it’s the hum, though, you’ll feel the stirrin’ of your wings.”

The Hum and the Shiver is the first thing I’ve read by Alex Bledsoe and I look forward to seeing more of Cloud County, Tennessee, and the Tufa.

The music seduced me, I’ll admit it. I was willing to wink at a few plot issues and some character issues, because the book is filled with such sweet, wild music.

It reminded Bronwyn how glorious being a Tufa could be. The music formed around them like a physical entity dancing on sparkling wings. And then they, too, danced on wings that left trails of sparkles in the air as the swooped and twirled in time to the tune, merging with the music to become magical, timeless beings. Bronwyn’s leg, unburdened by her physical self, no longer ached with the weight of injury and age.

There’s nothing terribly musical about Bronwyn Hyatt’s return from Iraq, to her hometown of Needsville. Bronwyn is a wounded warrior, a returning prisoner of war fashioned on Jessica Lynch, a hero who has been primed to be the face of the American war presence. Although the small hill town is filled with people, most of them are out-of-town reporters, and Bronwyn’s parents, for instance, are not there to welcome her.

Bronwyn and her parents, Chloe and Deacon, are Tufa, described by outsiders as a clannish group of reclusive hill-country people. The Tufa are much more than that, though; they can use spells and magic. Bronwyn is glad to be home, but has lost, at least temporarily, the ability to play music or sing, and much of the Tufa magic is in music. This is a concern, because Bronwyn’s mother has been seeing death omens since before her daughter’s return… and Bronwyn herself is visited by a “haint,” what we would call a ghost. The haint is a woman soldier who was killed in the 1991 Iraq war. She has something urgent to tell Bronwyn, but Bronwyn doesn’t want to listen.

The Hum and the Shiver follows the story of Bronwyn’s return and plays out the meaning of the omens Chloe is seeing. It also unfolds the story of Craig Chess, a handsome young Protestant minister with a church across the county line, who is baffled by the fact that he can’t get the Tufa to come to his services; and Don Swayback, a reporter at a small weekly paper, who has some Tufa blood in his veins. Bledsoe uses the reporter’s journey to explain the Tufa to us.

Bledsoe combines Celtic mythology and American folklore in a way that is completely plausible. The Tufa can do many things, but music is the heart of their magic. It is so powerful that the expression, “I’ll sing your dirge,” is a Tufa death threat. The Tufa are fairies. There are two groups of Tufa, corresponding to the Seelie and Unseelie courts. After countless books where fairies or Faeries or “Fae” cluster in hierarchical enclaves, traipsing out occasionally in their glam wardrobes, it was refreshing to see an original take on the Faerie crowd, and a real exploration of what might have happened if they had come to the new world. That said, the competition between the two groups — Bronwyn’s, led by a girl named Mandalay, and the other, headed by Rockhouse Hicks — is not a primary theme here, but it might become more important in the sequel.

For me, to my surprise, the minor storyline about Don Swayback was the most emotionally satisfying. Don has been a failure and is emotionally numb; he comes to life as he tries to get an interview with Bronwyn. Music, which he had put aside years before, begins to seep back into his life, and he digs his old guitar out of the closet.

… His trade, his skill, was with words, cold and analytical descriptions of events denuded of any excess passion or meaning; so where did this passion come from?

Bronwyn is a First Daughter, with responsibilities to the Tufa, and her growth is largely internal until the end of the book. The two external villains, her criminal ex-boyfriend and a corrupt state trooper, are the least developed characters. Both hover just above the stereotype line. Dwayne and Trooper Pafford are types that exist in real life but that’s no excuse for a writer as gifted as Bledsoe not to flesh them out more. Also, I thought Bronwyn’s response to the haint, who is trying to get her to remember what happened to her when she was being held captive in Iraq, was intellectually interesting but not completely believable. This exchange left the book feeling a bit unfinished, or, I suppose, like the beginning of a series.

The most disappointing story arc is that of Craig. Craig is instantly attracted to Bronwyn and that attraction is mutual. It is growing into love by the end of the book, and Craig is wrestling with a conflict between his knowledge and his faith. Here’s a powerful, realistic problem, one that Craig seems to resolve in a way that made me lose some respect for him. It may be that this problem will play out over future books — it may be that Bledsoe just had too much on his plate to really explore Craig’s crisis.

As I said, I saw these problems but I was so captivated by the fantasy and the music that I didn’t care. Despite the grittiness, strong language and a lot of sex, despite the setting of the story in a modern, more cynical USA, The Hum and the Shiver reminded me of Zenna Henderson’s short stories of “The People.” This book made me want to tune up my Dad’s old guitar and strum “Red River Valley.” I’m glad there will be more stories about the Tufa.

~Marion Deeds

No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the mountains of East Tennessee before the first Europeans arrived. Yet there they were and there they remain, dark-haired and enigmatic, allegedly unware of their own origins. But there are clues in their music, and those with the truest Tufa blood know the songs that allow them to fly on the night wind…

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this too. I’ve never read anything by Alex before but I found his brand of fantasy very appealing. I’ll definitely look out some of his previous novels when I get some spare time.

    On a side note, the cover on the copy I read was brilliant. Everyone I saw commented on it. Definitely worth looking it out (You can see it here: The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe).

    I also ran an interview with Alex on my blog and he seems like a genuinly nice chap, I hope his latest book reaches a wide audience.

  2. Yes, I like the cover of the print version better, too:

    We’ve interviewed Mr. Bledsoe, too, and I’ve talked to him by email a few times — he is a really nice guy. I will be watching his career closely. And I’ll be sure not to miss any Eddie LaCrosse books!

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