Gather Her Round (2017) is Alex Bledsoe’s fifth stand-alone TUFA novel. Though each of these stories has mostly the same setting and some of the same characters, and though they tend to have some of the same major plot elements (e.g., the appearance of ghosts, a musical performance, a murder mystery, an outsider who stumbles upon their tiny strange community), they are surprisingly different in tone. They can be read in any order and you don’t need any previous TUFA knowledge to enjoy Gather Her Round though it may help to know that the Tufa are a race of close-knit secretive folk who descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann and, sometime in the past, came to live in the rural mountainous region of Appalachia. Many of them are musicians and music, which has magical properties among the Tufa, is integral to their culture.
In Gather Her Round, a Tufa teenager who went to play her instrument by herself in the woods seems to have been mauled by a herd of wild pigs that is led by a huge feral hog of perhaps supernatural origin. The girl’s boyfriend is traumatized by her brutal death and then even more devastated when he discovers that she had been cheating on him with his best friend. He wants to kill the pigs and he wants revenge for the betrayal. He concocts and implements a plan that only makes everything worse. Meanwhile the enmity between two clans of the Tufa continues and Mandalay worries that her old rival may not be as dead as she previously supposed he was.
Gather Her Round is the darkest and most disturbing TUFA story yet. I’d call it a horror story. A monster story, to be more specific, but the big pig isn’t the only monster in the book. Some are human and they are even scarier. Bledsoe’s setting and characters have always been a little creepy, so this shift feels natural. Parts of the story are gruesome and all of it is psychologically intense. In Gather Her Round Bledsoe uses music, which has always been a prominent feature of the TUFA novels, to ratchet up the feelings of fear and dread. Gather Her Round is horrifying and I couldn’t put it down.
There are a few new intriguing characters in this story. I hope we’ll be seeing some of them again, especially Janet, the ambitious student reporter who is narrating the entire story to an audience in the future. There are also portentous signs that times will be soon be getting even darker for the Tufa. As Mandalay says, “The Night Winds are changing.” I look forward to finding out what’s going to happen next.
I always choose to read the TUFA stories in audio format because they’re narrated by Stefan Rudnicki. He never fails to give Bledsoe’s novels the excellent treatment they deserve. This audio version, published by Blackstone Audio, is 8.5 hours long. I have to say something about the cover art, though. It’s completely inappropriate. It is almost totally unrelated to the story. The cover for the print version isn’t much better. Yes, the Tufa are fairies, but not those kinds of fairies.