I rarely come across a fantasy or sci-fi novel in which a majority of the plot lulls, or is at least lacking excitement. Novels of this genre, though each unique in their own special way, almost always begin with a hook to draw the reader into the story; usually an action scene, or something wildly dramatic. A writer friend of mine says that if the reader isn’t invested by page 10, the author is doing it wrong. It is also rare for me to come across a "bad book". It is a fact that there are very few "bad" books due to the amount of heart, soul, and effort required of completing a novel-length story. But the times when I have read something less than stellar, it was typically because the story wasn’t engaging, or spent so much time in a lulled state that I felt no reason to continue reading. Books like these I keep hidden in a drawer until I decide to read them, or I eventually donate them.
The Hum And The Shiver by Alex Bledsoe may be the only book I have read which, in my opinion, is by all outward appearances a slow novel, but engaged me in its story the entire way through. There is no "hook" within the first ten pages. There is little to no "action" until the final third of the novel, which by most standards isn’t the least bit "exciting". The story is simply a large group of characters living their everyday lives in a setting. What makes it so engaging is a damn good mystery, which makes for one of the most creatively written novels I’ve ever read.
The story is set in a small, east Tennessee town which clearly has a past and an extensive lore to it. The reader catches glimpses of this lore through the eyes of two outsiders, a preacher trying to start a parish in the town, and a reporter. The reader is as clueless to this mystery as these outsiders, however neither of them are the main character. The main character and her close-knit friends and family are the ones who have been shaped by the town’s past and lore, as has every other character who lives there. Because of this, the characters never discuss the lore of their people. They live in a secluded town, and they never reveal their secrets to the occasional outsider. Because every character in the story, aside from the two outsiders, has been raised in the lore, no one discusses it. There is simply no need for them to. It’s a clever way to write a mystery. What makes enduring the entire book worthwhile, is just how interesting the culture of the town is.
Bledsoe creates a lore in this book which is so unique and creative, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is so well thought out that the reader keeps asking questions with every turn of the page. Why do they do this? Why can’t they do that? What does that word mean? The residents of the town are passionate about their traditions as they force them on the main character, and through her pain, the reader can only wonder why they are so explicit. But again, they never take the time to explain the lore because everyone is already engulfed in it. All is eventually revealed, but it takes a journey of establishing real characters with real emotion to get there.
And that is what makes Hum and Shiver feel so genuine amongst its over-the-top lore. The characters are vast, unique, and genuine. They speak to each other about their culture in everyday conversations. Their actions and dialogue are further humanized by the fact that their culture is flawed. Characters, like in politics, disagree as to how things should be done, which creates steaming conflict. But, once again, the reader never knows the why behind people’s anger because they need not discuss the details.
The Hum And The Shiver is one of the most captivating novels I have read, and it didn’t have to shock me every few chapters to do it. It is a mystery which keeps the reader asking "Why?", and keeps pages turning from start to finish. Its clever use of plot elements keeps the story at so steady a pace, yet it surprisingly works and ultimately pays off. On top of that, mystery behind the lore alone makes this story worth the read. For that, I can do nothing more than recommend it.
You can purchase The Hum And The Shiver here.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; February 2016