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Book Reviews: The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing, by Alex Bledsoe

Appalachian fairies and their dealings with Muggles.


The Hum and the Shiver

St. Martins Press, 2011, 349 pages



In this valley songs live … and kill.

No one knows where the Tufa came from or how they ended up in the mountains of east Tennessee. When the first Europeans came to the Smoky Mountains, the Tufa were already there. Dark-haired and enigmatic, they live quietly in the hills and valleys of Cloud County, their origins lost to history. But there are clues in their music, hidden in the songs they have passed down for generations.

Private Bronwyn Hyatt, a true daughter of the Tufa, has returned from Iraq, wounded in body and spirit, but her troubles are far from over. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, while a restless “haint” has followed her home from the war. Worse yet, Bronwyn has lost touch with herself and with the music that was once a part of her life. With death stalking her family, will she ever again join in the song of her people and let it lift her onto the night winds?




I liked these books, but I've gotta say the first one, at least, was totally a Paranormal Romance as written by a dude. In fact I kept double-checking the author's bio, since "Alex" seemed like an obvious tell for a female author trying to hide her gender, but no, Alex Bledsoe is a man.

That's probably why it's more frequently shelved as "Urban Fantasy" rather than "Paranormal Romance," even though there is not much "urban" in the hollers of Cloud County, Appalachia.

The Hum and the Shiver is an American fantasy novel, the kind that takes Old World fairy tales and puts them in a very American setting, in this case, the Smoky Mountains.

The Tufa are a mysterious, reclusive clan that lives in Cloud County and supposedly have since the first Europeans arrived. "Swarthy" and dark-haired, they can pass for white, black, or Indian, and are none of the above. There are all the usual tropes about reclusive, secretive hillbilly clans here, but as the Tufa keep telling outsiders, there is nothing special about them. They pay bills and watch TV and worry about the economy like everyone else, they aren't ignorant of the outside world. They just all come back to Cloud County sooner or later. Everyone with any Tufa blood in them.

Bronwyn Hyatt is a pureblood Tufa who left Cloud County because she was a wild rebellious child who drove her parents crazy and had a reputation throughout the county. She went and joined the Army, fought in Iraq, and came back an injured war hero, resulting in a very unwelcome fifteen minutes of fame being focused on her and Cloud County.

It's obvious early in the book that the Tufa are special, though the exact nature of their supernaturalness isn't revealed right away, and the hints we eventually get are only that. But suffice it to say that the Tufa are a very ancient and magical people and they have powers. They also come in the same varieties that normal humans do: some of them are decent folk, and some of them are mean bastards.

Bronwyn's Tufa ex-boyfriend Dwayne is one of the mean kind. Besides dealing with her wartime trauma, Bronwyn has family drama, ex-boyfriend drama, and an unlikely romance with a hunky preacher man. It all winds up pretty messily with violence and some supernatural shenanigans.

I could not help noticing, however, that the author really liked to talk about how many men "The Bronwynator" blew. Like, that was actually her nickname, partly because she was a troublemaking hellion, but partly because she apparently had a well-deserved reputation for making the top of her head the view most men in the county were familiar with. There's a lot of sex and almost-sex in this book, and a lot of references to blow jobs. If I were the Bronwynator, I might kind of resent the dude who wrote me with such a terrible reputation. Really now.

There's also a charming conversation with her mom, who reveals that her milkshake used to bring all the boys to the yard too, and then she married Bronwyn's loving, stable, boring father and since then has basically been resentful of her daughter getting to go out and have all the fun she used to have. I think we're supposed to sympathize with them both over this moment of female bonding? I was just like.... damn, I feel sorry for poor Dad. And then Bronwyn almost fucks some jailbait who has a crush on her, but decides instead she's going to have the kid's baby but marry the preacher man. Okay, let's see how that works out...


Wisp of a Thing

Tor, 2013, 349 pages



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 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 at last be broken.


I expected the second book in the Tufa series to continue Bronwyn's story, but in fact she barely makes more than a cameo. Instead, Wisp of a Thing is more traditional contemporary fantasy, less PNR, and also has a 650% decrease in blow jobs.

Rob Quillen is introduced to us as a Muggle outsider who comes to Cloud County on a strange sort of quest. The winner of an "America's Got Talent"-style reality show, his girlfriend died flying to his finale, and now Quillen is a very broody, angry, grieving musician with a streak of bad boy; yes, he's a typical PNR protagonist. Except when he runs into the Tufa, he finds out there are much badder boys on the block.

Bliss, one of the First Daughters of the Tufa, has been given signs by "the Night Winds" that there is something special about Quillen. I kind of assumed this meant they'd end up fucking, but the story delays that for quite a while while Bliss tries to figure out why this stranger is bumbling around in Cloud County triggering signs and portents all over the place. Rob Quillen also looks like a Tufa. This is brought up by nearly everyone who meets him, though he says it's just because of his Filipina mother, and Bliss insists that she's quite sure he doesn't have a drop of Tufa blood in him.

Our boy Rob winds up in the middle of a Tufa turf war, and what was hinted at in the previous book is spelled out in this one, as we get the actual origins of the Tufa, and why they're split into two hostile camps. I liked Wisp of a Thing better than the first book, because there was less pointless sex, because Bliss is less whiny than Bronwyn, and because we actually got deeper into the fantasy roots of the series, making it more American Fantasy than Paranormal Romance.






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Tags: alex bledsoe, books, fantasy, reviews
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