The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe book cover
The Hum and the Shiver (2011) is the first novel in Alex Bledsoe's Tufa series. Set in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, the novel builds on an old Appalachian myth, and imagines a race of mysterious, dark-haired people, known as the Tufa. Although their origins have long since been lost, the insular community of mountain folk desperately cling to the traditions of their ancestors, passing their mystic songs from one generation to the next. The novel centres on Bronwyn Hyatt, a young Tufa woman, who has recently returned from the Iraq war following a harrowing accident and abduction. Touted as a war hero by the outside world, Bronwyn is known in the Tufa community, from her teenage years, as a promiscuous hell-raiser. The plot follows Bronwyn as she recovers from her injuries, relearning the Tufa ways and dealing with old acquaintances, new suitors, and an underlying threat to both her family and the wider Tufa community.

Bledsoe stitches the Tufa's world neatly to our own, creating a patchwork reality that one can easily identify with. Indeed, the novel has much to say about our own reality; from the role America plays in the world, to the treatment of minorities and the vulnerable by those who struggle to deal with diversity and difference. At its heart though, The Hum and the Shiver is about family, tradition, and community, about making one's way in the world whilst respecting one's roots. Bronwyn provides the perfect centre point for this, a rebellious youth who feels oppressed by the weight of her family's history. The themes are universal, and the supporting characters are drawn sensitively and provide identifiable conflicts for Bronwyn, whether they are Tufa or not.

The plot is subtly constructed, moving at a gentle pace as it creates the world of the Tufa. This is a sign of an author comfortable with his style and respectful of his audience, Bledsoe never feeling the need to contrive scenes of explosive energy to hold the attention, but instead delicately relaying a tale of intrigue and mystery. Sadly, in contrast to the measured style there are phrases that grate and sentences that are poorly constructed. These are infrequent but glaring, and inhibit the overall flow of the story. Towards the end of the novel too, some characters begin to lose shape, acting to propel the plot rather than maintaining behaviour consistent with the personality drawn for them.

In Bronwyn, Bledsoe has created an engaging character and one that many readers will be drawn to. However, although Bronwyn is portrayed as a rebel and someone who has enjoyed a wild and reckless youth, this is occasionally overdone. In particular, one finds the frequent sexual references wearing and more than that, indicative of a mild lechery on the author's part towards his provocatively created protagonist. That aside, the novel works well as an introduction to the Tufa series, and Bledsoe's subtle blend of realism and fantasy makes the work accessible to a wide audience.

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I enjoyed this. Reality and fantasy blended together well, and the story was a subtle but enjoyable one.

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Interview: Alex Bledsoe
Alex Bledsoe is author of seven novels: The Eddie LaCrosse and Memphis Vampires series, and his latest title The Hum and the Shiver. Alex grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes ... [Read More]