Friday, April 03, 2015
Review: Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe
I find that some of the books I enjoy most are basically a form of modern mythic – sometimes this is called mythic fiction, and what feels like a long-lost time ago, many of these books were considered urban fantasy. However you choose to define them, these are books that are set in a modern(ish) world and contain a deep connection to some mythic past, often through or including nature, though not necessarily so, often through some form of spirit or mythic race, and music often plays a very important role. The books of Charles de Lint immediately come across like this and other names like Robert Holdstock fit just as easily. And now I’ve found another name to add to this list – Alex Bledsoe and his Tufa novels. Two are currently available, The Hum and Shiver and Wisp of a Thing, with a forthcoming book titled Long Black Curl.
The Tufa are a people in small area in Appalachia that have a mysterious past and deep connection to music and the land they live on – they mistrust outsiders and many rumors swirl about them – often dark, tragic rumors that are only whispered.
When I first came across the description of these books – something like that paraphrased discussion above – I knew these books were for me. I had the second, Wisp of a Thing and was very hesitant to jump in – once I was informed that while related, each book stands on its own, I could no longer resist the call and plunged into the deep, old forests of Appalachia and the Tufa.
I’ve often wondered why these mythic books appeal so much to me and I believe it begins with my love of the outdoors. But it’s way more than that, because these mythic books can succeed without ever stepping out of the concrete jungle of a city. I think it must be the combination of what is often a love and respect for the world that is beyond what is found in modern life, with a deep connection to the past in combination with an otherworld-ness that feels just out of reach. It’s that ‘irrational’ fear of that dark place, the ‘unnatural’ feeling of an old forest at night, the unexplainable connection of hugging a tree, the transcendence of music.
When stories achieve this place, they lose that common focus of an external goal – be it a quest, or vengeance, or whatever. It becomes a journey internal to those who experience it. The pace slows and the story takes over like a song while escape is an unwanted dream.
Wisp of a Thing does all of these. There is a deep, personal journey, not a hero’s journey, not one where the end is known, but a journey none-the-less. The old world music of Appalachia plays a big part, along with weathered epitaphs in lost, overgrown cemeteries. It’s tragic and hopeful. Love is lost and found. Old wrongs are righted. Blood runs deep.
I loved Wisp of a Thing – now I crave a journey into the mountains of Appalachia, a hike down my favorite trail to visit that giant old-growth Ponderosa Pine, to look out over the beauty of the land around and listen to the music of the wind. For whatever reason, my love of mythic fiction doesn’t end, but it does fade to the back only to seemingly leap up out of nowhere. Through Bledsoe and the Tufa, I now have another ever-present beginning of a journey waiting for me. I will be back again…and again…and again…