Music in Fiction: THE HUM AND THE SHIVER

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 Ringstrilogy 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 Balladand 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!

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

24 thoughts on “Music in Fiction: THE HUM AND THE SHIVER

  1. I can think of only two books. In Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes there is a singer which mmanipulates people to do whatever she wants when she sings. And in Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez there is no outright magic, but the music heals the soul and makes people realize what’s wrong with them.
    I love books like that, but mostly they are either historical or contemporary fiction, not paranormal. At least that’s what I found.
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  2. Thanks @kara-karina and Llehn…I haven’t read any of those, so I’m going to have to check them out! I think I have Trial by Fire in my topping TBR shelves 🙂

  3. The Silver John books by Manly Wade Wellman had a lot of old-time music in them. John played a guitar strung with silver strings, was a Korean War veteran and wandered the hills of North Carolina. I love those books! The music is a very important part of the story.

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  4. L.E. Modesitt Jr wrote a series of books about musical sorceresses. I believe that the first book in the series was The Soprano Sorceress.

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  5. The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy by Patricia McKillip involved harp playing as a key element; voice and music was also instrumental in the SpellSong series by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. which had a former music instructor as main character; and I vaguely recall “Sing the Light” by Louise Marley…the flute was key there if I remember correctly. 🙂

  6. Hmmm I don’t think I can recall any. There are plenty of books where music play a small part but never is the main focus. I see some great suggestions though.

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  7. See, I knew you guys would have all kinds of suggestions!

    @Susan…These Wellman books sound a lot like The Hum and the Shiver, with the rural Southern hill country and the veteran. I’ll have to check that out.

    @Sandy. I haven’t read any Modesitt, but I like the sound of sorceresses. Music and magic are a natural pairing.

    @Brian. Ack. I want to read Rothfuss so badly, but 1) have been afraid all the hype wasn’t justified and 2) they’re HUGE. Didn’t know music played a role in them. Are they deserving of the hype?

    @Tanja…Another mention of LE Modesitt. I haven’t read him at all. I’ve read some McKillip but not the Riddlemaster trilogy.

    @Book Sake. Glad I’m not the only “lyric skipper.” I knew the music was important in Maggie Stiefvater’s faerie books, but I haven’t read the Mercy Falls series. I know she composes music to go with her books (and does illustration–multitalented!).

  8. Kim Harrison’s the Hollows series = Takata – A witch and a musician, he is the most popular musical act in the series. Rachel knows him personally, having helped him in the past. Rachel later discovers that he is [spoiler]. Takata records music that includes subliminal lyrics intended for undead vampires. His real name is Donald. Not a major part of the series, but I like to plug the series when I get the chance.

  9. @Roger…I agree! I mentioned the Hollows series because it was one of the few I could really think of where the music plays a role. Until we did the re-read of DWW, I’d forgotten that Takata’s music went all the way back to the first book 🙂

  10. In Shiver/Linger/Forever music plays a role, but not a major one. Can’t think of a series with such a huge use of music…

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  11. Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series use music in every book. sometimes it’s just in the background, but often it’s a big part of the story.

    (not entering giveaway, just adding my two cents 😉

  12. @Sullivan…I’m not familiar with Sharon Shinn’s work. I need to check it out!

    @Aik. I find Mozart fascinating…I assume this is historical fiction and not paranormal? I’ll have to look for it.

  13. Five Flavors of Dumb involves some music; it’s about a deaf girl managing a band. Obviously, it’s awesome!

    The character in Harmonic Feedback loves music, though it should have had more music, in my opinion.

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  14. I’m going to go with Fairy Metal Thunder! It’s all about the music:) Great giveaway!

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  15. It’s a manga series but I love the Nana series by Ai Yazawa. I completely fell in love with that series.

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  16. i think of Elspeth Cooper book in french ” Les chants de la Terre” so i guess the title is something like ” The songs of Earth”

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  17. Some of Anne McCaffrey’s books use music as a prominent component. “The Harper Hall of Pern” comes to mind.

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