Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Hum and Shiver - Yeah, you will

The Hum and the Shiver
By Alex Bledsoe
TOR 2011

Reviewed by Deirdre M. Murphy

As we meet Bronwyn Hyatt, she is returning home to Needsville, Tennessee to a war hero’s welcome. Bronwyn is not excited about this. The crowds waiting to greet her are strangers. She can’t remember what she’d done to earn it, or even, she muses, if she’d done anything at all. Still, she goes through the motions, riding the ludicrous vehicle they provide for her trip between plane and podium, and giving the speech her superiors have approved. Then she heads home, where she can finally rest and heal from her many injuries.

Home, where in many ways things are as they always have been, but where a haint waits to speak with her, and where omens of death have been disturbing the family’s peace of mind. Bronwyn returns to her childhood home and greets her family. Before they leave her alone, her youngest brother brings Magda, her beloved mandolin, to her. She plucks the strings—it’s been tuned for her—she raises it into position, and she stops. For the first time she realizes the concussion she suffered stole more than the memory of her alleged heroism and subsequent captivity. Her head injury stole something much more precious. It stole her music, which for a first daughter of the Tufa is a far more devastating injury than the loss of a leg would have been.

That first night, when the haint comes, she sends it away. She is tired from her wounds and from her trip home, and discouraged by her inability to play. This leads to a confrontation with her mother the next day. Her mother says, “…as far as I’m concerned, you’ve spent the last two years playacting, and now that you’re home where your real work is, you’re trying to avoid it.” This raises the question of what her mother thinks her real work is. It’s clearly a matter that is rooted in her Tufa heritage.

So, who are the Tufa? Everyone agrees that they are an obscure, dark-skinned ethnic group that was settled in the Appalachian mountains before the first white man came, and no one suggests they’re American Indians, despite the long, straight black hair. The music is all tied into it—all of the full-blood Tufa are musicians, and their neighbors say they sing strange, spooky songs.

The Hum and the Shiver follows Bronwyn and her family as Bronwyn tries to recover from her head injury and they try to face—or prevent—the death that looms over the family. It also follows Minister Craig Chess, whose church is being built just over the county line and who is good-naturedly working in the community to serve the people who live in his parish, even though he has been told the mysterious Tufa are not churchgoers. We also meet other interesting characters who are clearly more than extras—Bronwyn’s family, of course; Don Swayback, a reporter with Tufa blood whose editor wants an interview with Bronwyn; Dwayne Gitterman, Bronwyn’s former boyfriend; and Officer Bob Pafford, who once arrested Bronwyn and Dwayne, and who thinks he knows exactly who the Tufa are (and has no use for any of them).

The mystery of the Tufa identity—who they were, who they are, and who they should be in the future—is central to this book and to Bronwyn’s story. The Hum and the Shiver reads like listening to a folksong or a symphony. It is an engrossing modern-day not-so-urban fantasy adventure, slowly revealing a magic as unforgettable as a fiddle tune and as sweet as a minor seventh chord. If you’re anything like me, the magic in this book will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

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