Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers.
I absolutely love it when a book is different enough that I can't quite decide what genre it fits into. The Hum and the Shiver, which I read 70% for the cool title and 30% for the cover because I'm shallow they were both so intriguing, is closest to urban fantasy. But the setting is hardly urban, taking place in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, in a town with a population of 300. Private Bronwyn Hyatt has just returned from the Iraq War, brutally wounded in body and spirit. Now home, she is forced to face her responsibilities to the mysterious Tufa community made all the more pressing because of a series of dark omens.
Things I loved:
For all the dark omens and the like, there's an element of peace and quiet that pervades the story. Even the pace is deliberate. The author takes his time revealing exactly who and what the Tufa are, and even when we know, there is still much left unanswered. They remain mysterious and aloof even to the reader. The individual characters are real and flawed (particularly Bronwyn and her mother), and their problems are just as grounded in the troubles of a rural, Appalachian community as in those of a magical community.
Issues such as the Iraq War and religion, which are used so often to make big statements, are treated as simple backdrop realities in this book. Both are unimportant to the Tufa community. In a story in which the main character is a wounded vet and another important character is a Reverend, I think it's very cool that the author was able to avoid the temptation of sharing his opinions on these topics. It makes for another intriguing characteristic of the Tufa, and the disinterest in the affairs of man adds another subtle layer of connection back to their faerie ancestors.
Finally, I loved the importance of music in the story. To the Tufa, music is everything. It's a way to communicate, to bond, to threaten. It's woven into everything they do, and everything they are. It's that feeling you get when a song stirs you in your bones, but magnified to a magical degree. Because of their origins, the music is equal parts American Bluegrass and Celtic. Actually, their whole society is an interesting, almost effortless blend of country and Celtic. So awesome.
Also...all Tufa men are apparently tall dark and delicious. I can deal with a whole town of hot cowboys. Yep. I can.
Things I didn't like:
I like it when a story switches between several different character perspectives. Even a LOT of different character perspectives. But sometimes the perspective in this story switches mid-paragraph. We'll be in Bronwyn's head, admiring the chiseled behind of Reverend Craig, and then suddenly we'll be in Craig's perspective as he thinks about Bronwyn about three sentences later. It's very jarring at times. There are also lines that are downright cheesy to the point that I winced reading them. For the most part, the writing is subtle, quiet, and lovely. But when characters are compared to Greek gods, my eyeballs begin to roll.
There were also a few plot points that were dropped that I wish has been better explained or wrapped up. For one, the haint that haunts Bronwyn and so needs her to remember exactly what happened to her in Iraq that her spirit comes back from the grave kind of disappears. And what exactly was so hard about what she had to do at the end of the book that those memories would have helped her deal with? Obviously, some terrible trauma occurs, but I'm not sure how Iraq is relevant to it. Also, I'd like to know more about what exactly happened to her at the end of the book, which I think is connected to exactly what it means to be a Tufa First Daughter. Just a little more elaboration would have made the climactic scene even more epic. Last, the tension between the Rockhouse Tufa and the Mandalay Tufa was really intriguing and I would have LOVED to read more about it. I'm thinking this will be more important in the second book though, which seems like it will center around Mandalay herself from the title. I hope this is the case, because she was very cool and slightly creepy, and I wanted more from her perspective from the second she was introduced.
It could be that these points were simply left open to elaboration in subsequent books though, so it may be that I'm just feeling impatient. :)
All in all, The Hum and the Shiver is a really different, absolutely fun read that I'd recommend to pretty much everyone on my friends list.