This book was published in 2011, so it’s not exactly new. I picked it up at my library last year, because, that title. It’s got to be the best title of a book I’ve seen in a long time. The cover art was beautiful and mysterious, just like the title. And when I read the back cover summary, I was hooked. It had all the hallmarks of a book that I was going to love.
For the most part, it didn’t disappoint. The book is in a genre I particularly enjoy, urban (or should I say, rural?) fantasy. The main character is Browyn Hyatt, a soldier returning to her home in the Appalachian Mountains, hailed as a hero but suffering from PTSD and other physical wounds. This is no ordinary girl, we see that right from the beginning. She is tough and prickly. You get the impression that she was like that before her stint in Iraq (her nickname is The Bronwynator), but that her war experiences have wounded her more than just physically, and that she falls back upon her prickly personality to compensate.
But this is not exactly a cozy homecoming. It is obvious that she is joined the army in part to escape from her people, the mysterious Tufa, who live down the backroads in this tiny rural community in the Tennessee hills.
One of the things I loved about this book is the slow introduction to the Tufa. There’s hints and signs that there is something odd about these people but you are not quite sure what it all means.
Dark haired and dark skinned, yet not white, black, or Native American (although often content to be mistaken for any of the above if it meant they’d be left alone), the Tufa kept their secrets so close that…no one even knew how they’d turned up deep in Appalachia. Yet when the first official Europeans had reached this valley three centuries earlier, the Tufa were already here, living quietly in the hills and minding their own business.
The Smoky Mountains, in my mind, are entwined with the particular music that is unique to the place, and which I love. Music is important in this book too, in fact, it is the basis of the “magic” of the Tufa. Bronwyn is a First Daughter of the Tufa, and there are hints her mother is about to die, and so Bronwyn needs to learn her mother’s song, which is always passed on from mother to daughter, before it is lost forever. Problem is, the brain injury that she has sustained has stolen her ability to play music, something which is essential to every Tufa.
Another strong element for the book for me was the character of Craig Chess, who is a young Methodist minister who is new to the valley where the Tufa live, and who is beginning a church there. I so often find Christians, and in particular Christian ministers, to be one-dimensional characters in mainstream fiction. And usually that one dimension isn’t a very good one. I appreciated that Bledsoe actually took the time to make the pastor a real person, with some real questions and struggles with his faith in the light of the strange goings-on, but who doesn’t abandon his faith. At least by the end of the book. There’s two more books in the series that I have to catch up on, so we’ll see how that goes.
Chess is one of Bronwyn’s love interests, interestingly enough, and the other one is the nasty Dwayne Gitterman, her erstwhile boyfriend who belongs to the Hyatt’s rival Tufa clan. Bronwyn’s escape into the army was also an escape from him. This relationship was one that I found a bit hard to understand. The whole portrayal of Bronwyn as a wild and sexually promiscuous teenager is a bit off-putting, especially as she is portrayed as having such a strong will, the kind of person no one messes with. Yet she put up with all sorts of degrading abuse from this man, and is portrayed as liking it, in some ways. It just didn’t add up in my own mind. It is this element of the book that makes me give it four stars, not five. Because of that and some rough language, it is definitely an adult fantasy, not YA, so be warned!
Bledsoe provides us with a bridge character between our world and the world of the Tufa, that of Don Swayback, a reporter sent to interview Bronwyn who is part Tufa himself, but who has never connected with that part of his family. His slow awakening to the mysteries of the Tufa is also our own, and it’s interesting to see how his character develops throughout the book, as his perceptions change from the Tufa being the weird back-country relatives that no one wants to talk about, to something altogether more appealing and interesting.
I can’t say too much about other parts of the book that I particularly enjoyed, as it resonates too much with elements that are in my trilogy, and, well, spoilers. Suffice it to say for the most part I liked this book and it’s take on the Tufa, and I’m looking forward to reading Book Two, Wisp of A Thing.