This was the June pick for Sword and Laser book club and I only picked it up because of that. I had some strong reservations about the book when I first looked at it a year or so ago and decided not to read it because of that. However, book clubs don’t always pick books that you want to read and I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, the book did not alleviate those reservations. I don’t know, maybe I’m just super grumpy because recently I’ve been annoyed at almost every book I’ve come across. I will say that the story is interesting, and if I hadn’t been so bothered by the issues I found with the book this might even have been a four star read.
Bronwyn Hiatt is one of the Tennessee Tufa, a group of people who were in the hills of Tennessee long before the white settlers came to the mountains, and a war vet/hero who is just coming back from her tour of duty. Said tour of duty ended when Bronwyn was captured, brutalized, and then rescued; fortunately, she doesn’t recall much about her captivity. She comes home to a people who expect a lot from her, the same expectations she ran off to a war to hide from, and a death omen hanging over her family. And then mostly it’s Justified with fairies. Which sounds like it should be AWESOME. This is exactly what I want, and yet…. So many reservations.
The first problem I have is one that others have expressed as well. There’s some really ugly slut shaming directed Bronwyn’s way. Most of it comes from the mustache twirling villains of the book, but some of it comes from the book itself. It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, the Tufa are not Christians and yet they still adhere to Christian morality. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it is as though the author wanted hillfolk culture while divorcing it from one of it’s strongest influences. Plus there are at least two really graphic rape fantasies, and despite having a female narrator it’s pretty heavy on the male gaze. I never forgot this book was written by a man. Take that as you will.
My second and third issues are intertwined. One of those being that there already were a people in the hills of Tennessee before the white settlers came, but the Tufa are very clearly not Native American, they’re Irish fairies despite their ‘dark skin’. Dark skin which has no real repercussions except some slurs. The other issue is that the music, which features heavily in the novel, is the music of the Appalachians. I really like that, it’s a really interesting musical tradition and I love it. However, I also know that this kind of music was born from a combination of the Scotts-Irish settlers and the African slaves. You can’t simply remove one part of that (the African slaves) and come up with the same musical tradition. Both of these issues show a very shallow examination of the American South and it bugs me. It’s a light rural fantasy, so I don’t even know why I want more, but I do. I don’t know, maybe I’m expecting too much and I should just enjoy the book and not think too hard about the cultures and peoples being ignored in the background.
Honestly, I think this could have been so much better, I don’t even need an in-depth explanation of why things were different just an acknowledgement of the many cultures that make up the fabric of the US, and the Appalachian mountains in particular, would have been nice.