The Hum and the Shiver ~ Alex Bledsoe

  • Title: The Hum and the Shiver 
  • Author: Alex Bledsoe
  • Series: Tufa #1
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, yet when the first Europeans arrived, they were already there. Dark-haired, enigmatic, and suspicious of outsiders, the Tufa live quiet lives in the hills and valleys of Cloud County. While their origins may be lost to history, there are clues in their music – hints of their true nature buried in the songs they have passed down for generations.

Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns from Iraq wounded in body and in spirit, only to face the very things that drove her away in the first place: her family, her obligations to the Tufa, and her dangerous ex-boyfriend. But more trouble lurks in the mountains and hollows of her childhood home. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, and a restless haint lurks nearby, waiting to reveal Bronwyn’s darkest secrets. Worst of all, Bronwyn has lost touch with the music that was once a vital part of her identity.

With death stalking her family, Bronwyn will need to summon the strength to take her place among the true Tufa and once again fly on the night winds.

Review:  I liked this book much more than Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse series. It was written better, and its story was deeper and more mature.

The protagonist, a twenty-year-old soldier of the US army Bronwyn, was injured in Iraq. She has returned home to recuperate, but her homecoming is not at all restful. In pain from her healing wounds, obviously suffering from PTSD and numb from painkillers, with her mind hazy and her spirits low, Bronwyn is tired and disoriented. She wants to find her unique ‘song’, but neither the army, nor the small town where she grew up, nor her family offers her a safe place.

She belongs to the Tufa, a hard, mysterious people living in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Always rebellious, even as a child, she never wanted to conform to her pre-assigned role in her community. That’s why she enlisted in the army two years ago: to escape from her heritage. But now she is home, and her heritage demands its due.

Torn between her people’s past and future, between the modern technology and the centuries-old traditions of magic and music, Bronwyn is searching for her place, for her own melody. Her path is fraught with mistakes and detours, as she repeatedly asks herself: “Who am I? What should I do?”

I like Bronwyn. She is a multidimensional character, a complicated young woman with strong opinions of right and wrong. A fighter with an intense conscience, she is an instigator of change. Of course, her hankering for change brings her nothing but trouble, but she copes with her troubles with honor intact, if maybe slightly tarnished. To my relief, she is not ‘a chic with a sword,’ the archetype that has recently invaded the modern fantasy genre. Instead of weapons, she uses her common sense and morality, her assertive nature to win her battles.

Like Bronwyn, several secondary characters in the novel are also on the road of self-discovery, trying to find their niche. Self-discovery seems to be one of the dominating themes of this novel. Its other theme is much more disturbing – the ethics and legitimacy of killing.

Can you kill in peace time? Who has the right to make that call? Are there any special circumstances when killing is permissible or necessary? When a soldier is ordered to kill, are morals involved? What if someone is so evil, caused so much grief, that he needs to be eliminated to prevent more suffering? Who must assume the responsibility to kill him? Where is the borderline between a just killing and a murder?  

Such difficult questions raise their heads in the course of the novel, and although the author doesn’t shy from expressing his views, he invites his readers to formulate their own answers.

The pacing is deceptively slow, covering the day-to-day lives and seemingly inconsequential events, but the pages turn very fast. The author is a master of intrigue, and his skill kept me glued to the book until I finished it.   

A couple details I didn’t like in this book, although they didn’t cause me to lower its rating. First – the secret of the Tufa. Bledsoe keeps dropping hints at some otherworldly origins of the people, at their mystic powers, but even as far into the book as page 116, nothing was clear. Who are the Tufa and what they can do is only revealed towards the end. Can’t say it was a big surprise though. The allusions are sprinkled throughout the tale, and the anticipation keeps the tension high, keeps the readers guessing. Still, I think the full disclosure should’ve happened earlier in the story. It would’ve read better.

My second objection: nothing is resolved by the last page. Many subplots are left dangling, like in real life. Even Bronwyn isn’t yet sure what will become of her, although by the end she at least has some inkling. Certain controversies have been resolved, while others haven’t been touched yet. Overall, such ambivalence leaves the readers vaguely dissatisfied and hankering for more. Maybe that was the point.

He Drank, and Saw the Spider ~ Alex Bledsoe

  • Title: He Drank, and Saw the Spider
  • Author: Alex Bledsoe
  • Series: Eddie LaCrosse #5
  • Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
  • Format: ARC, Kindle
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  After he fails to save a stranger from being mauled to death by a bear, a young mercenary is saddled with the baby girl the man died to protect. He leaves her with a kindly shepherd family and goes on with his violent life.

Now, sixteen years later, that young mercenary has grown up to become cynical sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse. When his vacation travels bring him back to that same part of the world, he can’t resist trying to discover what has become of the mysterious infant.

He finds that the child, now a lovely young teenager named Isadora, is at the center of complicated web of intrigue involving two feuding kings, a smitten prince, a powerful sorceress, an inhuman monster, and long-buried secrets too shocking to imagine. And once again she needs his help.

They say a spider in your cup will poison you, but only if you see it. Eddie, helped by his smart, resourceful girlfriend Liz, must look through the dregs of the past to find the truth about the present—and risk what might happen if he, too, sees the spider.

Review:  I received the uncorrected ARC copy from NetGalley as a Kindle file.

The protagonist of this novel, a sword jokey Eddie LaCrosse, stands out from the pages like a living man, with all his merits and faults. It’s the fifth book in the series about him, and by now, he feels like an old, grumpy friend, a guy I could entrust with my problems.

Of course, he is a bit cynical and a habitual drunk, but who wouldn’t be, doing what he does. He is PI in a fantasy world, and his investigations often take him into the middle of some dirty conspiracies. Despite repeatedly coming up against the worst in people, he still retains his compassion and tolerance for the human beings. For Eddie, almost everyone has something good, and even a monster deserves a second chance.

Like any good PI, Eddie can’t resist a mystery. Secrets fascinate him, but his compulsion to discover the truth frequently leads him into danger. He also has a penchant for saving people – from bandits or dragons or wild beasts. He does it in every book.

This book is no exception. It starts with a bang from the past – the young Eddie saves a baby girl from a bear (why am I not surprised?) – but then it slows down. Being a mercenary, he doesn’t have a place in his vagabond life for a child, so he finds her a home among sheep farmers and goes on his way with a clear conscience.

Sixteen years later, on a leisurely vacation with his girlfriend, Eddie stumbles upon the same community of sheep farmers and meets his foundling again, now a pretty young girl. His curiosity stirs. He feels compelled to solve her mystery, to find out who she is and why fate dropped her in his path all those years ago. To the readers’ delight, Eddie’s quest for answers sets off a chain of calamities, and only Eddie could prevent the looming disaster.    

Besides Eddie, the novel boasts several requisite character types of the fantasy genre, including an orphan, a shady sorceress, a king or two, and a scary monster, but the roles they play are frequently controversial. Is this monster evil or simply ignorant? Is that sorceress ruthless or has she just run out of choices? The unorthodox functionalities of the common types are among the best aspects of this novel.  

The tale, a blend of mystery and epic fantasy, like the rest of the series, follows Eddie’s probing mind from a shepherds’ village to a king’s palace, from the throne room to the dungeons. Quietly and unobtrusively, the author raises the stakes for his hero and winds the tension in his narrative, until it thrums like a tight string by the middle of the book. The reader avidly turns the pages and wonders: what next?

Unfortunately, in the second part of the novel, the story goes downhill, and the denouement is disappointing. As if to simplify the finale, the author arbitrary cuts off most of the subplots by killing a score of characters and sending others into obscurity, as if they’re not important for the main storyline. Maybe they are not. But then, why were they introduced in the first place?

The conclusion to the single plotline the author did choose to explore feels artificial and predictable, no match to the original and explosive beginning of the tale.     

The other characters in the book are significantly less defined than Eddie, perhaps a bit cartoonish, with single traits of their personalities exaggerated for the sake of an archetype. Most of them, with rare exceptions, could be described with one modifier. A mad king. A scheming rogue. A no-nonsense girlfriend. A loyal guard. A cruel killer.

There are some extremely extraneous details in the story – like Eddie going to pee in the bushes. I don’t need to know that. Nobody does.   

The novel is uneven, but on the whole, I enjoyed reading it. Definitely recommended for the fans of the series.

The Sword-Edged Blonde ~ Alex Bledsoe

  • Title: The Sword-Edged Blonde
  • Author: Alex Bledsoe
  • Series: Eddie LaCrosse #1
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  It should have been a case like any other: a missing princess, a king willing to pay in gold for her return. But before he realizes it, private investigator Eddie LaCrosse, a slightly shopworn sword jockey with a talent for discretion and detection, is swept up in a web of mystery and deceit involving a brutally murdered royal heir, a queen accused of an unspeakable crime and the tragic past he thought he’d left behind.

Loved this book – quite unexpectedly. The cover art of the hardcover (published by Night Shade Books) is atrocious, one of the worst I’ve ever seen in fantasy fiction. I’d never have picked it up if not for a review of one of my friends on GoodReads. I must add that the cover art of the paperback (published by Tor) is much better.

The story is a blend of an old-fashioned mystery and a swashbuckling sword and sorcery adventure. And the hero is the one to match: a private detective Eddie LaCrosse, gruff, middle aged and slightly overweight, who lives in a vaguely medieval fantasy town. If you transplanted Sam Spade into a fantasy tale – he would be Eddie. Or would he? Like in any good mystery, nothing and nobody is as it seems in this engrossing novel.

As any PI story, it starts with a case: a random princess has gone missing. In the process of his investigation, Eddie is sucked back into his tragic youth, the events so painful he doesn’t want to remember them. But he has no choice. His childhood friend asked for his help, and Eddie must dig deep into his troubled past to find the solution to his pal’s plight.

The story moves very fast, not letting the reader catch his breath. The clues pile up, but Eddie must, however reluctantly, retrace his steps into the years long gone to discover the truth of today.

The novel is tightly focused, written in one consistent POV – Eddie’s. The reader is always aware of the protagonist’s inner thoughts, but sometimes the author intentionally throws a red herring into the reader’s path, concealing some clues and making us guess. That is occasionally irritating. Other than this one little flaw, I can’t complain.

The narrative is solid, the dialog alive, and the descriptions vivid. I can see everything through Eddie’s eyes: the squalor of the cities, the gorgeous mountains, the beautiful women, the dirty urchins. Everything is in the details, as always. For example: our unwilling hero doesn’t like horses, emphatically and loudly. As horses are the main transportation unit in many a fantasy tale, this little quirk must be the first in my fantasy reading. With a pinch of humor tossed into the mix, this largely unknown book has become one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a while.

I’ll definitely read another book of this author.