Wisp of a Thing (2013) is Alex Bledsoe’s second stand-alone novel about the Tufa, an ancient race of magically gifted swarthy rural folk who live in the Smoky Mountains of Cloud County, Tennessee and may have descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann. You don’t need to read the first book, The Hum and the Shiver, though it’s worth your while and you’ll get a little more out of Wisp of a Thing if you recognize a couple of characters who make cameo appearances in this second book.
This story focuses on Rob Quillen, a musician who became popular after the country watched him experience a personal tragedy on a national TV reality show. Rob has come to Cloud County because a mysterious man told him that’s where he can find a song of healing. He knows it’s a long-shot, but Rob has nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.
As soon as Rob arrives, he realizes that strange things happen in Cloud County. The first person he meets is a feral girl who lives in the woods. Then he meets a vacationing couple that he hears fighting before the wife disappears. There’s a Tufa man who seems to have special power over women and another man who thinks he should make decisions for the whole clan, but there’s also a small cadre of women who wield some sort of magic that gives them a quiet but obvious authority. There’s a family of mean “white trash” folks, a disappearing graveyard, a dangerous cave on the side of a cliff, and an ancient curse that will take effect when the wind tugs the last leaf from the Widow’s Tree.
Rob unwittingly gets involved in all of these weird events and the treacherous factions of the Tufa as he faces the truth about himself, deals with his guilt and loss, and searches for a song that might mend his broken heart and let him move on. His experience with the Tufa will change him, but his presence among them will also, in turn, change the Tufa.
Wisp of a Thing is a lovely haunting fairy tale about love and loss, the pressure of culture and tradition, and the power of language, music and dance. The characters are intriguing, the plot is mysterious, and the prose is evocative. The unusual rural Southern setting is dark and eerie. Next time I travel through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, I’ll be on the lookout for those suspicious black-haired swarthy people, and if they start singing, I know I’ll be entranced.
I liked Wisp of a Thing even better than The Hum and the Shiver, mainly because I liked Rob and some of the other characters more than I liked Bronwyn, the protagonist of that first book. If you liked The Hum and the Shiver, you must read this one but, again, you don’t have to read The Hum and the Shiver first. Wisp of a Thing stands alone well enough. The audio version of Wisp of a Thing is narrated by Stefan Rudnicki who is perfect for this role. As always, I loved his performance.