It’s October! What are you going to nominate for a Cybils Award? Take a look at the great books that have already been nominated and make sure your favorites are in there, too!
There’s a librarian in my state who gives talks on the latest in sci-fi and fantasy that I make a point of getting to whenever I can. I heard about this a year or two ago now, but it just now made it to the top of my reading pile. This is Fantasy for Music-Lovers.
The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe.
Deep in the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee is Cloud County, the home of the Tufa people. They might look similar to Native Americans, with their olive skin and straight black hair, but they have been there longer than anyone can remember. Usually, not many outsiders notice them, but right now, there’s a lot of attention focused on them as Private Bronwyn Hyatt, a First Daughter of the Tufa, is returning from war. She doesn’t remember the incident that people are saying made her a hero, but she’s wounded and knows she has to come home. At home, both of her parents have been seeing signs that death will come soon to somebody in the family – there is a haint trying to talk to someone, and the sin eater was seen shambling around the house – but no one can tell for sure who. It looks like either Bronwyn or her mother, but Bronwyn’s father or one of her two brothers are still possibilities.
As she’s trying to heal her shattered leg, Bronwyn realizes that she has forgotten how to play her mandolin and so can’t access the healing power her music would bring her. Meanwhile, she needs to avoid both the press and her abusive ex-boyfriend Dwayne Gitterman, though his sweet and obviously smitten younger brother Terry-Joe has been sent over to help her with her mandolin. There’s also Craig Chess, a handsome young Methodist minister who’s the latest in the steady trickle of preachers the church sends to try to convert the Tufa. The story makes it clear that the Tufa can’t be converted; my mother found this disturbing, but still couldn’t put down the book. I, on the other hand, like Craig’s sense of humor (“What… was the Good Lord smoking?” he asks himself at one point) and that he is determined to minister to people in need – the sick and dying and so on – whether or not he can get them to come to church.
There’s a lot going on here, both for Bronwyn and for a host of secondary characters, including her mother, Craig, and the local journalist who must learn more about his deliberately forgotten Tufa ancestor to get close enough to Bronwyn to get the story his boss says will save his job. The story is as much about who the Tufa are and what it means to be one as it is about Bronwyn’s particular troubles – though of course she has to figure out her own identity to solve her problems. Though there’s definitely a dark side to the story, the joy of life and music shines through as well. This is one for the mature, between Bronwyn’s recent violent past and the sexual exploring she was known for before she joined the military. There aren’t a whole lot of present-time bedroom scenes, most of them between married people, but there is a lot of talk about what various characters did before they settled down. Even though I felt like I didn’t need to hear so much about either the wild pasts or the haint’s trailing entrails, I loved the world. I loved the importance of music and the folk ballads, both traditional and original, that filled the pages. I loved the Tufa, both individually and collectively, living in the modern world while their heritage is carried on the night winds, and the rough edges where Tufa and other people meet. And I went right out and got the sequel, which came out in June.