Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Wisp of a Thing draws us into a tableau populated by very different characters with very different troubles than its predecessor The Hum and the Shiver. Ron Quillen has not lost his connection to his music as Bronwyn Hyatt had in book one, and Rob is not a Tufa (although he is alternately mistaken for one or accused of being an inauthentic hanger-on to the Tufa’s history and community throughout the story), but he is in Cloud County for a reason: to find a powerful and magical song to heal his broken heart. I admit to some very slight eye-rolling as I started reading, until, as always, Bledsoe cut to the heart of the story and I realized that Rob’s heart wasn’t broken in the ways he was willing to admit to himself and others. He had more serious wounds to treat.
Book two of a series can often suffer under the weight of reinvention or a lack thereof, but Bledsoe neatly sidesteps this by making Rob the ultimate outsider, and yet his status as an outsider is not entirely a stand-in for the reader. It can be, if you missed book one and jumped right into this one, but rather than an unfolding of the Tufa’s secrets, Rob barges in and demands knowledge at every turn, while the natives treat us to a very different flavor of “don’t tell the outsider” than the previous book.
Rob is a wonderful parallel and foil to Rockhouse Hicks, as their tales of ambition and destructive pride echo over the mountains surrounding Cloud County. My one gripe is that Bliss Overbay was positioned as such an important character with a lot of attention in the story, but she didn’t have as strong of an arc, and what we got wasn’t really resolved. Bledsoe didn’t tie her to Curnen as elegantly as he tied Rob to Rockhouse. I actually felt she functioned better as a secondary parallel/foil to Rockhouse, but that wasn’t fully fleshed out or resolved either.
Regardless of these flaws, Bledsoe’s writing is a delight, even when it veers into slightly purple prose or stumbles over a slightly awkward phrase. His stories are compelling because they’re so human, populated by flawed characters who, while sometimes not human at all, still ground us in authentic and passionate feelings and troubles.