FANTASY/(LITTLE BIT OF)ROMANCE
Title: The Hum and the Shiver
Author: Alex Bledsoe
Publisher: Tor, 2011
Series: Tufa, Book 1
Brownyn Hyatt returns from Iraq a war hero, a wounded vet celebrated on every news channel. She just wants to be home, in Needsville, Tennessee, among her people. Bronwyn is a First Daughter of the Tufa, a mountain people who share not only a certain look (black hair, good teeth) but also a secretive nature. It’s said that they were in the Smokey Mountains before Europeans came through, and they keep to themselves. Brownwyn rebelled against her parents to join the army, but she’s trying to find her way back – to her family, to her people’s traditions and to a better version of herself. Craig Chess is a new minister in the area, not having any luck in connecting to the Tufa, who get cagey whenever he asks about their beliefs. When he meets Bronwyn, Craig is drawn to the damaged woman. But she has troubles she needs to deal with before she can think about Craig, including a ghost that warns of a death coming for someone in her family
Contemporary fantasy that is decidedly NOT urban, this is a series that I fell for hard. I have always loved music in fantasies and the Tufa are a musical people, their magic tied to old songs that connect them to their powers and to the night winds. Bledsoe, who also writes the very different Eddie LaCrosse series (think Jim Butcher but with a smart-alecky hero with a sword in a made-up fantasy world) has a really delicate touch here. He doesn’t spend a lot of time detailing the magic of the Tufa or giving a lot of history, but skirts around things. He tells us what other non-Tufa think they are, and gives us hints and glimpses of their magic, but refrains from spelling everything out, and I kind of love that. The book is full of music, and one of Bronwyn’s big issues is her need to learn her mother’s Song in case she dies soon. She has been fighting her nature and her responsibility as a First Daughter, and her traumatic war experiences have cut her off from her music. I really felt for Bronwyn. She has a notorious past that she’s trying to live down (when she’s not tempted to live up to it) and is struggling hard against the expectations put upon her. While she could have just been a selfish brat, Bledsoe gives her enough nuance and shows her gradual growth. It’s a great character arc, and I especially loved Bronwyn’s relationship with her mother Chloe. Bledsoe is a beautiful writer, descriptive but with such a light touch. All the characters are interesting here, from Bronwyn and her family to all the secondary characters like a local reporter trying to use his Tufa heritage to get an interview with Bronwyn. There are even a few very well drawn villainous characters like a bigoted local sheriff and the leader of a rival Tufa faction.
FANTASY: Taken as a whole, the category of contemporary real-world set fantasy is completely dominated by urban fantasies: violent, dark, cityscapes filled with vampires or werewolves. Not only is the setting beautifully different here – Needsville being an insular small mountain town – but Bledsoe isn’t afraid to slow things down. This isn’t full of battles and chases through dark alleys. Much of the struggle is internal, with Bronwyn facing her own wild nature and taming it – but only as much as she wants to. And as I said earlier, I LOVE music-based magic systems. The magic of the Tufa is tied to their songs. I don’t want to spoil anything (like I said, the fantasy aspects are revealed slowly and subtly) but Bledsoe leaves a lot of territory in his worldbuilding to explore in the rest of the series. ROMANCE: While I usually credit this as a Fantasy/Romance blend, the romance is a small part of the story. Bronwyn was famous in town as being rather promiscuous, and her only long-term relationship was a destructively abusive one with local bad boy Dwayne Gitterman. She needs to get her own self straightened out before she can open herself to the possibility of a healthy relationship with Craig Chess. It’s not the most satisfying romantic arc, resolving too quickly and without enough time spent with Craig and Bronwyn together to show their chemistry. But her opening herself up to love is a sign of her growth, so I do keep it down as a blend. Mostly, for me, it is about the characters and the fantasy elements.
OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES
- Wisp of a Thing
- Long Black Curl (forthcoming)
- She Walks These Hills by Sharon McCrumb
- The Little Country by Charles de Lint
- Wide Open by Deborah Coates
Where did I get this book: Own/Purchased
BUY IT: or AMAZON
Thank you so much for your kind words, and your very perceptive observations on the character of Bronwyn. Very much appreciated.