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?
“Bledsoe turns standard urban fantasy tropes on their head by reimagining modern elves as a tiny, isolated ethnic group unsure of their own origins…The slowly unfolding mystery of the Tufa is a fascinating and absorbing masterpiece of world-building.” (Publishers Weekly)
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I should briefly point out that in this book the term “the hum and the shiver” is used frequently and in many beautifully poetic ways. It can be used to express many different things in the Tufa life.
Don’t think you’re going to get just a flowery book about music and magic. There’s politics at play among the Tufa. While many believe them to be one people, they are actually two separate and equally power factions of people who don’t like each other much and seem to be vying for power. Don’s story can seem a little disjointed from the rest of the book until you keep in mind there is a power struggle going on. Also, there’s much prejudice that the Tufa deal with, especially with the state trooper that patrols the area whose role isn’t much more than to be your standard racist villain. There’s also a few villains among their own including a man named Dwayne Gitterman, an ex-boyfriend of Bronwyn’s, who has “burned” the music out of him through his own evil. While he’s more interesting as a villain for this, he isn’t much better a villain than the state trooper except for his Tufa connection. This is redneck country, expect some ugliness is what I’m saying–in language and actions. It’s totally in keeping with the setting of such a story, but it may offend some.
I will admit in explaining the Tufa at points I think Bledsoe was trying to be as plain as possible for clarity’s sake, but instead those passages started to feel redundant and had me asking, “What can’t the Tufa do? Can one Superman punch someone into the sun? Asking for a friend.” On their own land, they hold a lot of power. Some people may even ask why would the Tufa even ever leave their lands with that in mind, but just because something is the “best” thing for you doesn’t mean that your heart doesn’t long to see things, to see the outside world, to have new experiences, even if that means weakening yourself or facing the unknown to do it. People run from their heritage all the time. That’s part of why Bronwyn left and she is hardly the first Tufa to leave, even in her family, but she found the need to be home greater than her need for something different. Bronwyn as a character left me conflicted. She was selfish and selfless, and maybe that describes most of us. However, so many of her actions that seemed selfless also seemed to really further her own selfish actions. Despite the terror she’s been through, though, she is still a twenty-year-old woman barely out of girlhood and it shows. She’s strong, weak, self, sexual, and a million other things, and despite this, we need rounded female characters that don’t just embody our idea of what a heroine of a story should be.
The love interests of the story come in two forms. One is a older teenaged boy (which may squick some people because he is like seventeen), Terry-Joe Gitterman, the brother of Bronwyn’s former boyfriend, and a pastor ten years Bronwyn’s senior named Craig. Tufa don’t have religion per se. That’s not to say they don’t believe in God, but they have their own beliefs and they are very private about them. So, giving Bronwyn a Christian love interest was intriguing. Both provided different angles to Bronwyn’s idea of love and sex, and in the end I really thought Bledsoe did something unique where this love triangle was concerned. While I did think Bledsoe played it a little safe with Craig, doing much to make him so likable despite him not really being someone the Tufa would open up to, I did like that Bledsoe presented Christianity not as something that should be about brimstone and fire but as about your actions and what you do to help your fellow man without their being some burdened placed on the actions because “God is watching!” In other words, Craig did things because he knew they were the right thing to do, and he didn’t condemn those he helped because they might not believe as he did. I only say he played it safe because there were moments when he did have the Christianity be so “in your face” and then back away from it instead of leading to more challenging conversations.
About halfway through the book, I stopped listening to the narration. My reasoning for this is because Card’s voice reminded me too much of the lady who co-narrated the novel, Wreckage (and that book annoyed me, so she faced a prejudiced in me getting to really enjoy her narration) and didn’t fit how I think Bronwyn–young, yet old all at the same time–would sound like, which came off too flighty and just didn’t feel right. Also, Card wasn’t really singing the verses in the book more than chanting them when I was looking to hear some twangy, bluegrass type music for the Tufa songs. As for Rudnicki, his voice was so deep that it distracted me. I love deep-voiced narrators both male and female, but his voice actually lulled me and made me miss bits of the story because it was easy to get caught up in his voice, which is very musical in nature compared to Card’s. Don’t let my thoughts on the narration deter you from listening to it, though, if you’re considering the audiobooks. Fun fact: Card attributes Rudnicki for much of her training.
I would be lying if I said that part of my ratings and feeling on these books come from many reasons aside from just the story itself. I connected with the story as a southerner and knowing how small towns can be with their secrets and their “haints.” Secondly, and the larger reason I started this series, is that I love books that combine music and magic in inventive ways. As a musician, I could relate too well to so many lines in this books about the hum and the shiver. My instructor was one of those people who believed you had people who played music and then you had people who music was so much a part of them that to rip music from their soul would surely kill them. She always said proudly that music was in my soul, and she still brags to this day about me being the youngest child she’s ever taken as a piano student because she “saw” something in me. I played a few other instruments, but the piano is my Magda (what Bronwyn calls her mandolin and most treasured instrument). In a way, she believed much of what this books believed, but in a much more realistic way. And I can name a few musicians that can touch me in a way that feels like something short of magic. This book does a beautiful job of capturing that feeling, the emotions and stories that music can capture in them. And I truly appreciate it for that
First book in series, there are two narrators and I think they do a wonderful job. I am familiar with Stefan Fudnicki, but not with Emily Janice Card. The story revolves around a group of people called the Tufa. They lived in an area of Tennessee, and was there when the first white men came to the area. I don't want to give away the story, because it progresses, and you find out things that will draw you into the characters. I can't wait for the next book in this series. I have read others by Ales Bledsoe, but I think this series will be something far above his others.