Long Black Curl is the third novel in Alex Bledsoe’s TUFA series. You don’t need to read the previous books, The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing; Long Black Curl can stand alone because its three main characters are new to the series. However, most of the other characters are from the previous books, so you’ll be missing some background on them if you haven’t read them. For maximum enjoyment, read them first.
Bledsoe’s TUFA books are about a tribe of swarthy backwoods folks who live in the Smokey Mountains. If you were passing through that region and met any of the Tufa, you’d think they were inbred ignorant rednecks with little education and fewer morals, for thus they appear to be. What you wouldn’t realize is they are descendants of the Tuatha De’ Danann, exiled by the faery queen to Appalachia long ago. While most of their fae glamour has been eroded by poverty and living in a closed community, they still retain a bit of magic. Most obviously, the music they play and sing has an emotional power that affects listeners intensely. Some of the Tufa are also able to ride the wind at night, and there is a bubble of faery time in the mountains near where they live.
The Tufa are divided into two clans, each ruled by a leader who has special powers. Several years ago, they got together and cast out Bo-Kate Wisby and Jefferson Powell, a pair of teenage lovers, one from each clan, who had committed some atrocious acts. Magic was involved in their banishment and the two were not only never able to come back home, but also never able to find each other again… until Bo-Kate figured out how to break the spell. Now she’s baaaaa-aaaaack, and she’s out for revenge. She’s threatening to destroy the Tufa culture. Somebody needs to stop her. Perhaps Nigel, the black Englishman who works as her personal assistant and thinks he loves her. Perhaps Byron Harley, the rockstar who has been trapped in the faery time bubble for the 60 years since his plane crashed in the mountains. Perhaps Jefferson, Bo-Kate’s old boyfriend who became a music producer after he lost the Tufa magic and wasn’t able to create his own music.
Long Black Curl is an emotional story full of hate, jealousy, revenge, and tragedy. It borders on horror. There is beauty, though, whenever music is present. This contrast is what Bledsoe does so brilliantly in this series. Many of the characters are unlikable — they’re inbred, nasty, xenophobic, sexist, racist, and brutish. The only ones I like are those who’ve come from outside, in this case, Nigel and Byron. Yet, as soon as one of the Tufa starts strumming a guitar or opens her mouth to sing, they’re all transformed, and so are their listeners. There’s magic in music, and it has the power to change us, to change our perceptions, to bridge wide cultural gaps, and to send us to some other time or place. Bledsoe does such a good job of making us feel this that it’s worth putting up with his revolting characters just so we can encounter that contrast.
I always feel a little uncomfortable reading the TUFA novels because they kind of remind me of Deliverance. But that’s just me. Readers who find backwoods settings appealing and don’t insist on liking at least one of the characters will probably love Long Black Curl. It’s dramatic and heartbreaking. Despite the fact that I don’t like Bledsoe’s characters (which, I’m sure, was his intention), I’ll continue reading the TUFA novels just so I can admire his craft.
Stefan Rudnicki narrates all of Alex Bledsoe’s books. He’s one of my favorite readers, and I love him here. It would have been nice if he could actually sing some of the songs in the story, but I guess that’s asking too much. The audiobook is 10.5 hours long and produced by Blackstone Audio.
By the way: As a fan of rock music, I enjoyed all the little rock music allusions I found in Long Black Curl. The most obvious one is that Byron Harley is Buddy Holly, but there are many.