The Humming of Numbers
YA Historical Fantasy
A novel set in 10th century Ireland wouldn’t be something I’d normally pick up to read, but this one was recommended by a friend, so I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did. The Humming of Numbers is a compelling coming-of-age story in which the need for courage and trust determines the main character’s path.
Seventeen-year-old Aidan O’Kirin is a monk in training with the ability to hear the humming of numbers–“a buzzing energy given off by living things.” To him, this musical sound is nothing more than another characteristic of people or things, but he learns early in life that others can neither hear nor understand the humming. His greatest wish is to work in the scriptorium, copying or illuminating the sacred texts. To that end he works hard, hoping that once he takes his final vows, he’ll be accepted as a scribe.
But that is put in jeopardy the day the local lord’s bastard daughter, Lana Nicarbith, is hauled into the abbey for selling false relics to pilgrims. Her father wants her punished and out of his hair, and he convinces the abbot to take her in and put her to work. Aidan eavesdrops on this conversation out of more than mere curiosity. Lana hums of the number eleven, a number higher than he’s ever heard from a human, and it puzzles him. He also struggles with the desire he feels around females, and is dismayed to learn he’s been put in charge of Lana’s guidance at the abbey in a test of his faith and calling.
When Aidan is sent outside the abbey’s walls on an errand, he hopes to accomplish it quickly and thus prove his worth to the master of the scriptorium. But Lana, thinking he’s running away, follows him. Aidan tries to convince her to go back, and even as they argue, he’s tempted by her more than ever.
They finally agree to return together, when they smell burning. Viking raiders have attacked. Aidan and Lana flee. Their courage is tested as they learn to trust their own abilities and each other in the face of the death and destruction around them.
Sensel does a lovely job weaving a story that incorporates common practices of the time period–Viking attacks on Ireland and monks illuminating sacred texts–with elements of the uncanny–Aidan’s ability and Lana’s witchery. The tale moves quickly as Aidan, Lana and the remaining villagers set about a plan of vengeance to win their freedom from the raiders. The Humming of Numbers was a satisfying read and I recommend it.