the Little Red Reviewer

The Hum and The Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe

Posted on: November 16, 2011

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

published in Sept 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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I knew it was going to be a busy couple days, so I planned to take at least 4 days to read this book. I started it on a cloudy Saturday evening, and finished it the following Monday. I hate sounding cliche, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I admit that from the blurb on the back I was expecting something run of the mill – Wounded war hero Bronwyn Hyatt returns home to recuperate, giving her hometown it’s fifteen minutes of fame.  And that’s where the “run of the mill” ended. Bronwyn’s parents seem oddly disappointed in her, in a way that’s got nothing to do with her military record. Her ex-boyfriend can’t wait to get back into her life, a ghost is hanging out in her backyard, a confuddled preacher is wandering around town, and worst of all, she can’t remember how to play her mandolin.

Bronwyn, her family, and her entire hometown are Tufa. Not white, not black, not Hispanic or Native American, not anything, the Tufa clans have been living in the Tennessee mountains since before the white man came.  They keep to themselves and do their own thing, and they don’t like strangers. The last thing they need is every local news station in the midwest descending on them to interview a war hero with a busted up leg.

As the first hundred pages flew by, I wondered if the writing was maybe on the simple side. Bledsoe seems to be a fan of the “less is more” school of writing, which is completely fine with me. But there’s no simple writing here,  just subtleties that pull you into the story so gently that before you know it, you’re standing on Bronwyn’s front porch,  smiling alongside her mother as her little brother shoots tin cans off the fence posts.  I no longer felt like I’d gotten thrown in the deep end.

Like the best kinds of magical realism, The Hum and The Shiver is as much about discovering something as it is about keeping the secret things secret.  I could keep butchering a proper plot summary, but I’m gonna get right to the good stuff and just tell you to read this book because it’s one of the edgiest magical realism / urban fantasies I’ve run into in years. I probably just spoiled a surprise by even categorizing this as urban fantasy.

Besides edgy, and  besides the subtle writing and the addictive story populated by mysterious characters, Bledsoe allows those characters to be brutally honest. All those heart to heart conversations we so often run into in books where the protagonist is a teen hellion with a heart of gold? This book doesn’t have those. Case in point:

“There’s a word for people who only care about what they want themselves.”
“Sociopath?” Bronwyn said sarcastically.
“I was thinking ‘asshole’. But whatever works for you.”

And plenty more conversations and observations just like that. Perhaps it’s just the character’s personalities, or maybe it’s that Bledsoe doesn’t suffer from loving the sound of his own voice, but there is no beating around the bush in this book. It’s so nice to read dialog that doesn’t feel like it was written with a television audience in mind.   And Bronwyn most certainly doesn’t have a heart of gold.

If you like subtle, if you like magical realism or urban fantasy with a twist in the presentation, The Hum and The Shiver is a book for you.  Think Charles DeLint meets Gene Wolfe plus the magic of music.  As always, I hate to give anything away, but I will assume that Bledsoe has plans to write more books with these characters.

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18 Responses to "The Hum and The Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe"

So glad you enjoyed this! I was more nitpicky than I should’ve been, since I live in the rough area he’s writing about, but I definitely enjoyed the read as a whole and look forward to seeing how the series develops. :) I described this as more a modern fantasy, because urban just doesn’t apply to everything modern and should focus on city besides. :) I think Cherie Priest is the one that joked we need to start a “rural fantasy” movement. :)

My original review, if you’re interested: http://calicoreaction.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/bledsoe-alex-the-hum-and-the-shiver/

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ooh, I like Rural Fantasy, that is exactly what this is! Modern Fantasy doesn’t sound quite right somehow, but Rural Fantasy, that’s perfect! I knew I should been following Cherie Priest. (btw, never read her, where do you recommend I start?).

I do understand how easy it is to be nit picky when a story takes place where you live. ;)

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How much fantasy is there, really, in this? From your description it could just as easily be plain old “fiction”, even literary fiction.

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I identified some fantastical elements that I’ve seen show up in other books that have been categorized as urban fantasy or magical realism. But if i told you about them, it would be a major spoiler.

you’re welcome to describe it as plain old fiction.

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My first Cherie Priest was her debut, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. It’s a great book that takes place in Chattanooga, TN (not far from where I live), and there’s two more that follow: The Wings of the Kingdom and Not Flesh Nor Feathers. Definitely the quintessential definition of “rural fantasy.”

If those books work for you, let me know, and I’ll give you a guide-map, so to speak, of her other work. :)

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I’m a huge fan of Alex’s and am really looking forward to reading this one!

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I’ve been wondering about this one. I love Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie Lacrosse books and have never at all been interested in his vampire/horror novels. DeLint meets Wolfe means a big “yes” for me! And I do know that I like the guy’s writing.

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I’ve heard really good things about his Eddie Lacrosse books, I really need to pick one up. I had no idea he did vampire/horror stuff? this is completely not that. I hope you give this book a try Carl, I’d love to know what you think of it, and I think it’s mainstream enough that a lot of your blog followers would be interested in it as well.

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If you do, make sure to pick them up in order:

The Sword-Edged Blonde
Burn Me Deadly
Dark Jenny

as the relationships between him and other characters continue across books.

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This sounds intriguing – not to mention a new genre is born ‘rural fantasy’ – I like it :D
Lynn

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rural fantasy – for those of us who don’t live in Chicago or London!

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Sounds like a great one. Thanks for the review.

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I read this one back in July, and I will be picking up any more in the series, if he writes them :) I did have some issues with it, but overall I thought it was a very well told story. And I liked Bronwyn, even if she did annoy me on many occasions.

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Sounds good! I will have to check it out at some point.

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I love the idea of rural fantasy!

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Just discovered your blog. Love it! I’ll be sure to add you to the blog roll on my blog http://myawfulreviews.blogspot.com

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This is one that I bought on a whim but haven’t yet read. I’m really going to have to, now. ;)

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it was excellent! and even better news, Bledsoe is working on (has finished??) another UF in this world. Different characters, same world. hey, i’ll take it!

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