Time to shake things up a little here at Preternatura—change is good, right? I’m going to try something new for the next couple of weeks and see how it goes. A lot depends on you, my friends, because instead of sticking up a book, running a three-sentence “review” and sponsoring a giveaway, I want to take a featured book and talk about something related to it—and still sponsor the giveaway, of course! And we’ll still have our Monday new releases and Reader’s Choice and our Wednesday book club, so no worries.
Today, though, the topic is music and books or, more specifically, music in books.
Our featured book today is Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver, first in a new series that’s part rural fantasy, part Southern gothic, and a beautiful read. First, let’s look at the official blurb for the book, then talk a little about music and the role in plays in some of our favorite series, both in the foreground and background. At the end, leave a comment and win a copy of The Hum and the Shiver—easy peasy, right?
ABOUT THE BOOK: 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.
In The Hum and the Shiver, music has power—real power. Living and dying kind of power. It’s an intriguing idea because the best books to me are those that can make me feel something on a gut level--something it's much easier for music to do. For me, music has the ability to evoke very deep emotion, much more so than the written word. It was the way I mourned Hurricane Katrina—and why Zachary Richard’s “The Levees Broke” or Aaron Neville’s version of “Louisiana 1927” can still reduce me to tears. It’s why Zachary’s “La Liberte” makes me laugh, and why I always perk up at the opening chords of Dire Straits’ old “Sultans of Swing.” Because music is powerful.
A lot of authors—myself included—use music as a mood-setter for our writing. Carrie Vaughn and Jeri Smith-Ready, for example, put their playlists in their books. Laurell K. Hamilton uses aggressive music to get her in the mood for Anita Blake’s fight scenes. I’ve used the music of South Louisiana to keep my head firmly in place as I write my New Orleans series.
But these types of playlists are more suggestive than literal. My heroine, DJ, loves to listen to BeauSoleil and Michael Doucet and Zachary Richard, but their music doesn’t have any power in the story except in how it impacts her--and how it impacts me as I write.
Stephen King’s books are rife with rock’n’roll references (Roland the gunslinger rides through the desert in his imaginary future land on his way to the Dark Tower and finds patrons at a honky-tonk singing along to “Hey Jude” for one of dozens of possible examples), but they’re often in-jokes for the culturally savvy and not germane to the story.
But if you want to go back a ways and look at the granddaddy of modern epic fantasy, JRR Tolkien litters his Lord of the Rings trilogy with fictional poems and songs. (And am I the only one who started skipping over those by the third time Tom Bombadil opened his mouth?)
I’m struggling to think of many of my favorite contemporary books or series that use music as a character. It plays an important role in Maggie Stiefvater’s lovely faerie books Ballad and Lament. In Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, the music of a fictional artist named Takata holds great power for witch Rachel Morgan, for both personal and magical reasons, and his music's rhythms ebb and flow in the series as it progresses. In Simon R. Green's "Nightingale's Lament," the third Nightside novel, the Nightingale's music is used as a lure and a weapon.
Still, I’m coming up short here. Maybe the impulse that makes me skip over the faux lyrics in Tolkien means that music and words appeal to two different pathways in the brain. It’s hard to convey the power of music without the music itself. What words ultimately can do is tell us the music is powerful, and use narrative to show us the effects of the music on the characters, which is something The Hum and the Shiver does well.
THE GIVEAWAY: Want to win a copy of The Hum and the Shiver? Can you think of a book or series you’ve read that heavily involves music? You know the routine: +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and +1 for Tweet or Retweet. Now...sing out!