A few years back, I picked up a book called The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe. It wound up taking me forever to get to reading it, so I finally got the audiobook ((These days, I do a lot of my fiction “reading” via audiobook, usually on my commutes.)), which just happens to be read by one of my favourite narrators, Stefan Rudnicki. And I loved it.
There are currently five books in the Tufa novels: The Hum and the Shiver, Wisp of a Thing, Long Black Curl, Chapel of Ease, and the one I’m currently reading, Gather Her Round ((It’s the latest one, as I write this.)). They tell the stories of an insular group of people living in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, a group of people who have some strange connection to music and the magic that it can make. Each of the novels stands alone as a single story, but each one also layers in a lot of information about the Tufa ((That’s what they call themselves, and that’s what outsiders call them, too.)) and their community of Needsville, and their history ((I don’t want to give away too much, but you find out in the first book thatIt’s a pretty big revelation in the first book, and forms sort of a foundation for a number of plot points in the later books.)).
The upshot of this is that you get a growing richness to the books, and a real sense of the community. There are some little side threads that weave through a couple of books, telling more of the stories of some secondary characters. And Needsville changes, based on the events of the book, large and small.
The first thing that attracted me to the books was the idea that these were mining the same vein that Manly Wade Wellman dug in with his Silver John stories. There’s the emphasis on music, and the backdrop of Appalachia, and some of the dramatic polarity of city vs country.
There are also elements of some of Charles de Lint‘s stuff, especially his Newford books ((Okay, these are all good. All of them. But my favourite has got to be Someplace to be Flying. It stands alone more than a lot of the other books; if you’re not gonna start at the beginning with the short story collections, I recommend this one as a taster.)): modern world with old magic still lingering, tight-knit communities of outsiders, emphasis on music and old stories, stuff like that.
There are some interesting themes in the Tufa books ((Okay. These are what I get out of the books. I can’t claim that they’re universal, or that the author intended them. But such is the nature of talking about someone else’s art. We all get something different out of it.)), themes that I like quite a bit. There’s the aforementioned tension between city and country, which could also be phrased as new vs. old, or tradition vs. innovation. There are looks at responsibility vs. freedom, and the weight of the choices you make in life. Ideas of what an insider or an outsider is.
And there’s lots of exploration of death.
Bad things happen in these books, sometimes to good people, sometimes to bad. There’s a thread running through all the books that shows how the death of an individual changes the world around them. Some of what happens is genuinely heartbreaking, though the stories themselves are pretty life-affirming. But to get to the new day, you’ve got to go through the night.
The books also take a look at traditional definitions of good and evil, and does a great job of showing why they aren’t clean. With few exceptions ((Looking at you, state patrol officer from the first book!)), everyone has understandable reasons for their choices, even when they are not really good choices. Even though the Tufa are divided into two camps, and the two camps have somewhat different values ((Though not as different as they like to pretend, I think.)), neither can be said to be purely good or purely evil.
I like that.
And, of course, those who know me know that the music angle will always hook me ((Those who don’t know me could probably guess that from the quotes on this blog.)). Especially as it draws on folk music ((Like the Silver John stories, like the Charles de Lint books.)), and has been useful in pointing me towards artists and songs that I hadn’t heard of before. Alex Bledsoe has even put a Tufa playlist up on 8tracks:
Songs that evoke the feelings of mysteries, sadness, isolation and hope of the fictional Cloud County, TN. Some of these songs are also mentioned in the Tufa novels.
This series has totally hooked me. I grab the new books whenever they’re published ((And, if I sometimes regret that Alex Bledsoe isn’t giving me more Eddie LaCrosse books right now, well, he gets to write what he wants. I’m not the boss of him. And I’m grateful for both series.)), and I usually also get the audiobook, just so that I get to have Stefan Rudnicki tell me another beautiful story in his glorious voice ((Honest to god, both his voice and his performance are just amazing. Deep, rich, warm, expressive – first time I heard him do an audiobook, I made note of the name so that I could find other stuff he’s read.)).
You should check them out.