Wednesday, September 28, 2011
When Bronwyn returns to her quiet family home there are those who think she'll return to her former ways and once again live up to her reputation as the "Bronwynator,"-- including her former boyfriend Dwayne. But there are larger problems looming for Bronwyn when omens begin to show that death is looming for her family and a persistent ghost, known as a "haint," insists that Bronwyn needs to deal with the pain of her past in order to be ready for the tragedy that awaits her.
For the Tufa, the mysterious people that have inhabited the Smoky Mountains longer than the earliest European settlers, Bronwyn's status as a war hero means nothing against her obligations as a First Daughter and her duty to learn the songs of her ancestors. But Bronwyn's music has left her in the wake of her trauma, and she doesn't know if she can recapture it-- or the magic that is part of her heritage.
Anyone who has read the Eddie Lacrosse series by Alex Bledsoe might be expecting The Hum and the Shiver to have a similar action oriented sensibility. But this is a quiet story in many ways. Bronwyn may have pushed the limits in her youth but her experiences in the Army have tempered her need to defy authority at every turn. That isn't to say that she's submissive-- far from it-- but the needs of her family, and her people, have finally taken their proper place in Bronwyn's world view. And it's the milder aspects of the story that take center stage. The music and the relationships between Bronwyn, her family and her trouble-making ex-boyfriend, as well as a new potential love interest, make up the bulk of the story. It's mostly about the characters and their interactions rather than a series of events.
The interesting thing about "The Hum and the Shiver" is that the characters frequently don't do what you expect. Even though Bronwyn comes home hailed as a hero, her family isn't that impressed; and it takes quite a while before the book begins to explain why it is frowned upon for a Tufa to leave their home. Bronwyn's parents are by turns loving and abrasive and there are moments when they aren't that likable-- much like any real family.
Bledsoe is also very good at writing about touchy topics. It would be easy to inject some political bias into a book that features a character that has just come home from a controversial war, but the narrative walks a fine line that doesn't heel to any one point of view but doesn't dodge the subject either. Religion is also something that is brought up, quite gently, thanks to a main character that is also a minister. Again, Bledsoe is respectful without being judgmental toward any particular belief-- something I really appreciated.
"The Hum and the Shiver" has a very earthy sensibility. Topics like sex and death are presented frankly among the Tufa characters, which adds to the mystery behind just what the Tufa are exactly-- a mystery I won't spoil here. I will say that the reveal doesn't come swiftly and it's somewhat unexpected when it does arrive-- I found myself rereading a few passages to make sure I understood that what was happening was literal and not metaphorical. And if I had one minor critique of the book it would be that the two sections of the book are very different and don't immediately jibe. That said-- I liked the overall effect and the way that part of the story played out.
Reading "The Hum and the Shiver" reminds me why Alex Bledsoe is one of my favorite authors. Whether he writes sword and sorcery, vampire fiction or contemporary fantasy the writing is solid and believable. The characters are all finely drawn without being overly idealized. And, most importantly, the stories are always written with an understated sense of humor. "The Hum and the Shiver" is a lovely piece of contemporary fantasy and well worth the time.
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.