The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe: I hate to say good-bye to the Tufa, but this is the way to do it.

I’ve got to stop doing this. I had most of a post written about this book for yesterday, didn’t like it and trashed the whole thing. This isn’t as analytical as I wanted to be, but it does a better job capturing what I felt about the experience, and I think I happier about that than I’d have been with my planned post.

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #6

Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: May 9 – 11, 2018

For many years [the Tufa] were on the wrong side of the South’s color line, and suffered for it. Their secretive ways and legendary musical aptitude spawned rumor and legend, which in turn prompted more and more withdrawal.

But now the twenty-first century, with its pervasive interconnectedness, pushed against this isolation. More and more Tufa risked the consequences of leaving and sought their way in the world. They all knew they would someday have to come back, since all Tufa were inextricably tied to Needsville. But they also knew that the seclusion of the past was no longer practical. Like it or not, the world now knocked on their door.

Such a depressing thought, but a pretty good summary of the State of the Tufa.

I still remember some of the reactions I had back in 2011 during my first read of The Hum and the Shiver and met the Tufa. There was something otherworldly, ethereal and haunting — and yet, very human, and even fun. It was, in short, magic. I thought the same when I re-read it before the sequel, and maybe it impressed me more that time. Each book since has felt the same — not all have them as successful as the first, but they’ve all had that same core magic.

When it was announced a couple of months ago that this was going to be the final novel in the series I was struck by two thoughts — the first, and strongest, was lament. The second was, “how?” There’s not an overarching narrative that needs tieing up, a goal to meet or anything. Partway through this book, I started to understand how Bledsoe was wrapping things up and concluding the series — and it felt perfect. I should add at this point that I was wrong about what he was doing, and that the reality was better than my guess.

As it’s the final book, all bets are off — the first novel contained many hints about the nature of the Tufa, but the successive books were less and less subtle in that regard, and ended up telling more than the previous. At this point, there’s no hinting, no suggesting — not only that, Bledsoe answers many questions readers have had since the beginning, and probably a few we should’ve had. And he does so in a way that enriches the series and the Tufa, not just something that reveals. There were so many little tidbits that came out that just made me smile or utter a quiet “Ah ha!”

I actually haven’t talked much about the plot yet — how odd. There are a couple of graduate students from a university in Tennessee — one in psychology (would be parapsychology if she could get away with it) and one in English with a focus in folk music as a way to improve his own music (minor spoiler: I spent a few pages waiting for him to be revealed to be a Tufa — nope, just a kindred spirit). These two have come across an old film — silent film old — shot near Needsville, showing a young woman losing her glamour and flying off on wings. There’s no way that it could be silent film quality FX, it’s a woman with wings. This town it was filmed in, Sadiesville, disappeared shortly afterwards. The two want to find this town and explore what happened to it.

Which brings them into contact with the people of Needsville — and the night winds have instructed them to help these two find what they’re looking for, despite the fact that no one in Needsville has a clue about the town. For readers, the idea that Tufa have forgotten anything that happened in their area is pretty astounding the kind of thing that piques your curiosity.

What happens next is wonderful, and horrible, and beautiful — awful in every sense, archaic and otherwise. I loved it and hated it while admiring how Bledsoe played this out. Structurally, tonally, thematically different from the rest (as each book in this series has been), yet undeniably part of the series. I loved seeing friends who’ve been around since The Hum and the Shiver or those as fresh as Gather Her Round just one last time (not that the new characters are slouches. For example, Veronica, our aspiring parapsychologist, is someone I’d hope to see if there was going to be a book 7).

There are a million little touches here — none of which I can talk about without ruining something, that make this good-bye the best installment of this series since The Hum and the Shiver. This is a must for Tufa fans (not that they need me to say it), and one more chance for me to suggest that people who haven’t started the series yet get on it. I don’t believe in actual magic — but Bledsoe’s series make me want to, especially if it looked like this. I hate to say good-bye to this series, but this is the way to do it.

Bravo.

—–

5 Stars

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Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #5

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2017
Read: May 29 – 30, 2017

Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe

Chapel of EaseChapel of Ease

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #4

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2016

Read: November 19, 2016

“Sometimes the best mysteries are never solved, because the mystery is too important to lose. This is the story about one of those mysteries. Most of it’s true, and the parts that ain’t, well, they still sound true.”

It’s time to return to Needsville, TN, the home of the Tufa for the latest installment in one of the best ongoing Fantasy around. One of the best things about this series is how every book is completely different from its predecessors, but they all clearly belong to the same series.

After a quick tease, we enter the story in New York City where an up-and-coming musical writer/composer and a well-established director are casting for an off-Broadway musical (the opening line of which was quoted above). There’s something about the story and songs penned by Ray Parrish that draws everyone who reads and/or hears them in as surely as moths to a flame. One such person was Matt Johanssen, who becomes friends with Ray as well as one of the more dedicated cast members.

The twist in this tale comes from the source of Ray’s material — old (and not-so-old) Tufa stories and music. As anyone who knows these people realizes, people back home are not going to look kindly on this. There are a couple of people on the fringes of Ray’s world that make it clear that the Tufa want something out of Ray — ideally, a cessation of any musical or play or anything ending up in public. Ray will not be dissuaded, this is the story he wants to tell — whether people in Needsville want him to or not.

Just before the much-talked about play opens, Ray dies in his sleep and it falls upon Matt to bring his ashes home to his family. While there, he has the opportunity to look into the places and people this play is based on — and maybe get an idea what the central mystery of the play is about. Ray’d played his cards close to the chest on this topic and without him around to tell the cast, someone has to do some first-hand research. So, while mourning his friend and getting to know his family, Matt finds himself on the verge of instigating a feud while doing his research.

Now, it’s not unusual for a Tufa novel to feature an outsider’s first encounter with the Tufa. But this time, the book is just about that — there’s so little action outside of this story that it really doesn’t merit attention (at least not now). In these pages we have a first person narrator as the person encountering the culture. This gives everything an immediacy, an intimacy that we don’t normally get to these. Also, the narrow concentration keeps the reader focused on what’s going on with the Parrishes and Matt, without worrying about the Tufa politics, shifting power, and so on (it’s there, and there are changes in town, but that’s not what the novel is about).

In many ways, it’s not a novel about the Tufa — it just happens that they’re around, it’s a novel about Matt and Ray. But once you throw the Tufa in, you end up with something that’s not your typical story about a dancer/actor from NYC returning his friends’ ashes to the Appalachian town he grew up in.

I thought Matt was great — as was his dawning realization that he wasn’t in the world he knew anymore, and how he reacted to that realization. The way he stepped into parts of the culture he was exposed to was well handled, second only to the way he went about fighting against or struggling with the rest.

You do get to see your favorite recurring characters and they make references to events in the other novels, so readers of the series do get to check in on things other than the Parrishes — please don’t misunderstand. The novel’s focus isn’t on that, however.

If you even glance at the cover blurb, you know that someone has to die so that there’s an urn for Matt to bring to Cloud County, but Ray’s inevitable death was a doozy — and the memorial service held for him was one of the more moving things I’ve read this year (the impromptu memorial in New York held by friends/cast, that is — the wake the Tufa held was a different kind of experience). Making you care about a guy you know is going to die before you open the book and meet him that much takes a special kind of writer — and that’s what Alex Bledsoe is. Naturally, that doesn’t just apply to Ray; it works for Matt, the Parrishes, C. C. and several others who actually survive the book (and one that doesn’t).

I feel like I’m in danger of becoming the Chris Farley talk show host character here, “Remember that part in the book where Matt does ____? That was cool.” I really don’t know what to say about this book — or the others in the series — that I haven’t before. It’s a great setting, with a culture and people you want to see again and again, for both understanding and entertainment. Plus the overwhelming desire to actually hear the music they keep talking about. This is Bledsoe at the top of his game, you should be sure not to miss it.

And, like the play itself — it all sounds true.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Key to the Coward’s Spell by Alex Bledsoe

The Key to the Coward's SpellThe Key to the Coward’s Spell

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Eddie LaCrosse, #?

Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Tor Books, 2016

Read: September 3, 2016


This over-before-you-realize-it short story is a welcome dip of the toe back into the world of Eddie LaCrosse, sword jockey (i.e., medieval private eye). Bledsoe’s Tufa series is one of the best things around, but man, I enjoy this series so much.

LaCrosse has been hired by a local blacksmith to find his kidnapped son. LaCrosse is sporting a broken arm, so he’s going to need a little more help than normal, Jane Argo, for one — and some new faces, too. There’s really not a lot to say, here — half of the action takes place before the story starts. LaCrosse gets a little more intel, and then jumps into action.

The action is brief and to the point — with a nice twist or two along the way. Nothing special, but it’s a good couple of sequences. And a brief reminder that no matter what you dress it up in — modern time/tech/clothing, generic fantasy tropes, SF, whatever — there are some forms of evil that transcend those details and are just evil that need to be fought in whatever little way we can.

Yeah, it was fun to spend some time in this world and with LaCrosse and everyone. But man, just as you get into it, the story’s over. Just not enough to really satisfy, but it was a fun taste. I don’t know that this is a good intro to the character (it might be), but it’s a good reminder for those who’ve met him before that they want to read more about him.

—–

3 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2015

Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2015.

This list was harder to put together than last year’s — you think this’d be easy, look at the 5-star ratings, pick 10. But while I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

Last year, I did a Runners-Up list, too. There are too many to bother with this year. Which is a good thing — a lotta good books last year. I also did a worst of 2014, which I didn’t do to be mean last year — but for some reason feels mean this year, so I’ll skip that, too.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Thank You, GoodnightThank You, Goodnight

by Andy Abramowitz

My Review
Rock ‘n Roll, Love, Inevitable Maturing, and that certain feeling you get while doing something with your friends.
4 1/2 Stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
My Review
Part tribute to J. K. Rowling, part coming-of-age (even if that age is early teen), part love letter to the Ideal of Grandmothers. This’ll get ya in the cockles of the heart.
4 Stars

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
Bledsoe took his perfect little world, and shined a spotlight on its dark underbelly, somehow making the community even more appealing. Stronger, although more fragile than before.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
My Review
Assuming the next volumes are as good, if not better, this is the beginning of Butcher’s best series to date. It could also be the a promise that he can’t deliver on. I’m betting on the former.
4 1/2 Stars

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

by Harry Connolly
My Review
One of the few really unique Urban Fantasies out there. Every other new UF can sort-of be compared to another/several others — but not this one.
4 1/2 Stars

The Way Into DarknessThe Way Into Darkness

by Harry Connolly
I set this one (and the two earlier novels in the trilogy) aside to give myself time to think about them before blogging about them. I never got back to it. A working title for this series was “Epic Fantasy with No Dull Parts” (or something like that) — he pulled it off, staying true to the conventions of the genre while turning them on their head. A great conclusion to a great trilogy.
5 Stars

The DrafterThe Drafter

by Kim Harrison
My Review
Harrison did everything she needed to do here after bringing her 13 novel series to a close. She wrote something that should appeal to her long time fans, but didn’t try to reduplicate her success. A brand-new hero, a brand-new world, with brand-new powers (and problems!). This one rattled me, kept me guessing, and kept me on the edge of my seat.
5 Stars

Last WordsLast Words

by Michael Koryta
My Review
Thoughtful, suspenseful, claustrophobic. A great introduction to a character I hope to see featured in several novels in the future.
4 1/2 Stars

A Red-Rose ChainA Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire
My Review
McGuire — much like Toby Daye — doesn’t rest on her laurels, but keeps pushing the series forward in directions no one would’ve guessed.
4 1/2 Stars

UprootedUprooted

by Naomi Novik
My Review
This take on a traditional tale just blew my mind — the perfect bit of storytelling.
5 Stars

Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #3

Hardcover, 377 pg.

Tor Books, 2015

Read: June 11 – 13, 2015

5 Stars
This book was practically un-put-downable. Not because I was driven to find out what happens next — like a Finder, or Child etc. This is one of those kind of books you don’t want to put down because you don’t want to leave that world, not for a minute, to step back into this one, as nice as it is — filled with your stuff, and your great wife and frequently tolerable children. But this book’s little corner of Appalachia that touches another world (in more ways than one) is a place you just want to exist in. Granted, I’d rather be in one of the earlier books than this one (not a reflection of the quality of the book, just the events portrayed).

Not all that long ago, especially by Tufa standards, Bo-Kate Wisby and her beau, Jefferson Powell wreaked all sorts of havoc. They were so terrible that they were banished from the community, unable to return — or, worst of all, make music. WHen you think of some of the despicable things that have happened or have been described in the previous two novels by citizens in good standing, you get an idea just how bad this was. Both have spent decades yearning to return, to play music — but have had to settle for incredibly successful careers in the music business. Which would be a special kind of torture and pleasure — being that close but not able to partake, still being able to appreciate it though. Somehow, however, this curse was lifted without anyone realizing it.

Well, anyone but Bo-Kate. She returns to get revenge and bow the Tufa to her will, destroying their heritage, their way of life and instituting her own. Her approach is not subtle, she clearly learned a little bit from the “Shock and Awe” tactics of a recent war. My jaw almost dropped when i saw the first step that was taken by Bo-Kate. I — like most of the Tufa — didn’t think that was possible, or at least likely. Although there was something to appreciate about that action, there wasn’t in the rest of what she did to the community — I can’t think of any fictional character I’ve had such a visceral reaction to (especially this quickly) this side of Joffrey Lannister Baratheon, first of his name.

It should go without saying with this world, the way the rest of the Tufa respond and defend themselves isn’t how you’d expect. Which goes double for how things play out.

Thankfully, I did really enjoy the rest of the Wisbys — especially Bo-Kate’s sister. I hope to spend more time with them. Actually, I liked getting to know all the new characters — including Bo-Kate’s allies (or those characters who weren’t new, but we hadn’t really spent time with). The characters in this community are so well drawn, so real that you almost don’t need a plot to enjoy a book about them.

As always, I’m jealous of the relationship between these people and music. I don’t have it — a couple of my kids do, at least. I think the way the two banished Tufa react to their returning musical ability tells you almost everything you need to know about them. These are books that need to come with their own score, their own soundtrack. Sadly, I don’t think humans are capable of putting out anything worthy of the books. As good as some of the music inspired by this series has been, it’s not good enough to live up to Tufa standards.

Two things that detracted from the book for me. First is the sex. Not that Bledsoe’s a model of Victorian attitudes toward sex before this, but Long Black Curl is pretty sexually explicit — moreso and more often than before (I’m reasonably sure, but am not interested enough to go back and check). I don’t think it was necessary, but don’t think it hurt things. It was just one of those things that seemed to stick out to me.

Secondly, this is absolutely the most straight-forward of the series, which is both a strength and a weakness. It’s more accessible. There’s almost no doubt whatsoever whats going on. The previous two books haven’t been exactly subtle about the magic and how it works out in the lives of the Tufa — but (and I’m struggling to express this the way I want to) they mostly just let us see what happened and say “hey, that’s magic.” There’s some winking and nudging, but primarily the reader has to do the heavy lifting. To switch metaphors, Bledsoe gave us all the numbers and equations, but we had solve for x on our own. But here? It’s all spelled out. It’s somewhat refreshing, but a little disappointing, too.

But that’s just a little tarnish to the series. It’s still one of the best out there. This book changes the world, but not so much that you won’t recognize it — this is all about growth, development. It does my heart good to know that Bledoe is writing #5 at the moment, so we’ve got at least a few hundred more pages of this world to come.

You can absolutely start here, but I think you’d be better off starting with the first, The Hum and the Shiver to you can catch all the nuance and atmosphere and all that. What it means that character X shows up and does Y. That kind of thing. Either way, dive into this world.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

He Drank, and Saw the Spider by Alex Bledsoe

He Drank, and Saw the Spider (Eddie LaCrosse, #5)He Drank, and Saw the Spider

by Alex Bledsoe

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Tor Books, 2014
Read: August 6, 2014

After a couple of adventures which aren’t quite typical in their nature, Eddie La Crosse gets back to basics with a fairly straightforward case. Well, that’s not exactly true — it ‘s just that the last two were more outlandish, more grand-adventure-y, less LaCrosse-as-sword-jokey. This is Eddie doing what he does best. Yes, there’s magic, and monsters, and all the other trappings that keep this from being something that Sue Grafton or Dennis Lehane would’ve written.

Sixteen years ago, Eddie promised a dying man on the run that he’d take care of the baby that the other man was running to protect. He found a seemingly-trustworthy family willing to take the infant in, and went on his merry way, and actually forgot all about the incidents surrounding that. Until years later, when Eddie and his girlfriend, Liz, are on vacation in that area, when suddenly it all comes back to him and he decides to try and track down the (now) young woman and see how she’s doing.

Naturally, things start to go poorly about there. He does find her — pretty easily, too — it is a small community, with an economy largely-based on sheep-herding and farming, so it’s not really a bustling metropolis where no one knows anyone else. But there’s a whole lot of interesting things happening around the young woman — royalty in disguise, a meddling sorceress, an untrustworthy mercenary-type, an over-protective mother, a dose of sibling rivalry, and some sort of articulate and super-strong inhuman creature with a healthy interest in the girl.

Even though he was just supposed to check on her and not interfere with her life — he had no intention of even introducing himself to her. Eddie can’t help himself, and before you know it, he’s neck-deep in intrigue, and danger.

On the whole, this is a fun, brisk novel — a lot of humor, some good action, nice banter and interaction between the characters (especially Eddie and Liz). A good change of pace over Dark Jenny and Wake of the Bloody Angel, which tended to be more on the serious, emotionally-charged side. Yet, even as the answers to the questions surrounding the girl’s mysterious origins become obvious, and some of the characters get to the point where they seemed a irredeemable, Bledsoe (as he can every so well) keeps you completely drawn in and even tugs the heart strings a bit as the truth is revealed to the characters. Just really, really well done.

There’s a lot of nice little touches along the way. For example, towards the end of the book, Eddie and those he’s traveling with encounter a preteen who joins their little band for a while. She’s pretty new to swearing and tries to get in as much practice as she can while with them. At first, I thought she was an odd (but entertaining) and pointless distraction. It didn’t take too long to see she was a perfect tension-breaker, just what that part of the novel needed to keep from being too tense and so much more serious than what had come before.

Eddie’s narration has never been better — humor-tinged and hard-boiled, a medieval Philip Marlowe or Elvis Cole. I liked all of these characters, and really wanted to spend more time with each of them — I don’t know how Bledsoe could’ve pulled that off without getting the whole thing to slow and ponderous (which would’ve sucked the fun out of 60-70% of these characters). This is really such a well-done and fully realized series. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

—–

4 Stars