The Humming of Numbers

The Humming of Numbers

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by Joni Sensel

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Aidan is poised to take his monastic vows—until a girl enters the abbey, one who hums of the number eleven. Aidan has the ability to hear the humming of numbers, a buzzing energy given off by living things. He is captivated and tormented by the mysterious girl, Lana, who has some unusual abilities of her own. How can he become a monk when his mind is filled


Aidan is poised to take his monastic vows—until a girl enters the abbey, one who hums of the number eleven. Aidan has the ability to hear the humming of numbers, a buzzing energy given off by living things. He is captivated and tormented by the mysterious girl, Lana, who has some unusual abilities of her own. How can he become a monk when his mind is filled with impure thoughts?


Before he can begin to sort his feelings out, the Vikings raid. Only Aidan and Lana can save the village from certain, violent death—and only if they learn to trust in their mysterious talents.


Joni Sensel’s richly imagined new novel is a compelling blend of fantasy and adventure.


The Humming of Numbers is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A great read . . . filled with nature lore and compelling action.”

School Library Journal

“An excellent book that readers of both historical fiction and fantasy will enjoy.”


KLIATT - Claire Rosser
This is historical fiction mixed in with the supernatural, set in the 10th century in an Irish abbey. Aiden, at 17, is on the verge of becoming a monk, with the desire to work copying manuscripts. The dramatic events of the novel take place in just a few days: the town and the monastery are invaded and pillaged by Vikings, and Aiden has met a strange young woman who is pulling him away from his commitment to monastic life. Aiden and Lana find a way to combine their gifts to help the villagers rid themselves of the invaders. These gifts are eerie, and they fear others will interpret what they do as witchcraft. Lana has been trained as an herbalist and a midwife; her knowledge of plants is profound, and she is part of the ancient tradition of herbal folklore. All his life, Aiden has heard, or sensed, a humming around all living things—people especially—a humming of numbers. When he first meets Lana, he hears an eleven, an unusual number that sets her apart. Certain numbers tell him of a person's character and this becomes essential knowledge in the plot to defend their community. There is a lot of death, blood, and suffering; also, there is strength, courage, and a wild romance between Aiden and Lana that ends happily. Reading the story gives us a sense of the importance of religion and the frailty of life in the Middle Ages; the author has carefully kept the details authentic. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
AGERANGE: Ages 15 to 18.

Seventeen-year-old Aiden is a novice monk in a tenth-century Celtic abbey, preparing to take his vows and paint illuminated texts. Lana, bastard daughter of the local lord, is sent to stay in the abbey as punishment. The abbot places Aiden in charge of Lana, testing the novice's commitment to his vows. Aiden and Lana are different from other people. Aiden learns the true nature of objects and people through a humming of numbers that only he can hear, an ability he must keep secret. Lana is a wood-witch and also hides her true self. When their village is attacked, Aiden and Lana use their gifts to help defeat the raiding Norsemen. This book is a blend of historical fiction and fantasy. The brutality of the time and the absolute power of the local lord over everything, even the monks, is depicted in crisp, succinct prose. The two protagonists have interesting and original gifts. Aiden's ability, in particular, is unique and described well. Both characters have strong personalities. Lana struggles with being the poverty-stricken daughter of a wealthy man and a secret witch. Aiden's interior conflict comes from determining whether he wants to be a monk or work with books. Both young adults develop over the course of the story, making difficult decisions and discoveries that change the courses of their lives. It is an excellent book that readers of both historical fiction and fantasy will enjoy. Reviewer: Heather Pittman
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

School Library Journal

Gr 7-9

Aiden and Lana are an unlikely pair. He's a novice monk, practicing to be a scribe; she's an illegitimate peasant with a penchant for mischief. Their worlds collide due to a Viking invasion that brings violent destruction to their families and homes. Hiding from the raiders, they discover that they have more in common than they could have expected. Aiden is able to sense the energy given off by living things, which he feels as the humming of numbers, while Lana can communicate with trees and use their wood to work powerful magic. Together they weave a plot to help their townspeople cast out the invaders, falling in love in the meantime. Aiden decides to leave the monastery to marry Lana, finally accepting that their magic is not the work of the devil. This is a strong story that will get skeptical students excited about historical fiction. Teachers will appreciate the accuracy of the book, which makes clear the scarcity and value of illuminated manuscripts in the 10th century, as well as the grim realities that women faced (Lana herself has been the victim of sexual violence). Although their decision to marry seems a little premature, and Aiden's position as the monastery's first lay scribe is a convenient ending, the book is a great read. Filled with nature lore and compelling action, it will appeal to many readers.-Nora G. Murphy, Los Angeles Academy Middle School

Kirkus Reviews
In 10th-century Ireland, a young novice with an unusual talent finds his cloistered world turned upside-down when he and a bewitching girl encounter Viking raiders. Seventeen-year-old Aiden is eager to take his monastic vows so he can learn to copy scriptures and illuminate manuscripts. He has the unique power to discern the "numbers humming from people and things," which sets him apart from everyone. When he meets Lana, illegitimate daughter of the local lord, she hums the number 11, the highest human number Aiden has ever encountered. Immediately attracted to Lana-who has powers of her own-he fears she will be his undoing. The two are unexpectedly drawn together after marauding Vikings attack the village and abbey, killing, burning and pillaging. Suddenly on their own, Aiden and Lana devise a desperate plan to rescue the remaining villagers by using their magical gifts. Although improbable, the plot proves exciting even if Aiden and Lana are all-too-obviously destined for one another. Teen love in Dark Ages Ireland. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Humming of Numbers


Lana Nicarbith hummed of the number eleven. The sound caught Aidan's attention as he swept the path near the abbey's front gate. He stared, open-mouthed, while Lord Donagh dragged the girl through the entry, past Aidan's poised broom, and inside. Plenty of people filled Aidan's ears with the chiming of four or seven or nine, and many of his brothers in the order purred softly of six. Never in his seventeen years, though, had Aidan O'Kirin met anyone endowed with the energy of a number higher than ten. He'd seen Lana before, but only from a distance—too far to hear the eleven that wafted from her now like fragrance from a flower.

Aidan followed. He noted the hand clamped on her arm and wondered why the ruler of eight clans had hauled his bastard daughter to the monks. His own footsteps quickened, along with his pulse. He risked a chiding if the abbot saw him being nosy, but the birch broom in hiswork-calloused hands gave him a meager excuse. He trailed a few paces behind Donagh and the slender ginger-haired girl. They angled through the yard toward the abbot's quarters, which sat near the gate on the sunny side of the stone chapel.

Clearly not happy to be there, the eleven girl stamped her bare feet and struggled and screeched.

"Stop squawking," Donagh ordered, yanking her forward. Fury and embarrassment glowed from his face. "This is a holy place."

"Not to me," she retorted, her head whipping around. Her eyes struck Aidan. Impaled by their blue fire, he did not drop his regard as would have been proper. She went stiff. Her protests fell silent. The humming eleven, if anything, grew louder.

Aidan had realized long ago that he alone heard the numbers humming from people and things. To him, the mathematical tones were as natural as colors or smells, just one more detail to notice and rather more pleasant than a whiff of dung or sour breath. His attempts to discuss it as a small boy, however, had failed. Nobody understood when he tried to explain. He'd been humored, at best, and more often had met with bewildered irritation. While still young, he'd grasped the truth: Others heard birdsong, windsong, human speech. But nobody elseheard the more subtle buzzing that he did. The music of numbers otherwise fell on deaf ears.

So the girl staring back at him now, the one whose skin whispered eleven, could not have been startled for the same reason he had been. She should have been embarrassed, caught acting so wildly, yet her face spoke plainly of some disappointment. It seemed to be aimed straight at Aidan. Wondering why, he raised his eyebrows in silent inquiry. She scowled. After a long, frowning look, with her neck craned to keep him in view, she stopped resisting completely and turned to follow sullenly behind her captor. The flash of silent communion between her and Aidan had somehow proved more persuasive than the lord's command or rough handling.

They approached the abbot's thatched house. Donagh rapped on the door, which opened to admit them. Nobody bothered to close it behind them. Aidan halted to perform some halfhearted sweeping in case the abbot reemerged with the visitors in tow. Fixing his brown eyes on the already-smooth ground, he let a swath of his dark hair partly hide his narrow face.

When the doorway remained empty, the young monk-in-training slipped nearer. His feet, still bare in the autumn sunshine, padded soundlessly on the earth. They faltered near a stone bench tucked under the abbot's thatchedeaves. Aidan didn't dare venture closer. He was supposed to be sweeping the path near the gate and meditating on cleanliness and purity before the noon prayers. It would be impossible to even pretend obedience if he went any farther. Poking his broom at a dead leaf under the bench, he tried to quiet his breath, the better to eavesdrop.

"She was alongside the pilgrims' route," Lord Donagh was saying. "Selling these. Or trying to." Aidan's ears caught the clatter of wood tumbling across the table.

"Pilgrims are beset by evil at every turn," sighed Abbot Bartley. The abbey was an attraction along the popular Saint Nevin's Way, and brigands and thieves knew it well. Many a pilgrim arrived empty-handed or beaten, giving the monks ample chance to practice hospitality and compassion.

The girl in the abbot's dim chamber apparently had no interest in compassion. "If they're foolish enough to believe that their sins can be wiped away just by—"

Her voice was interrupted by what sounded like a slap. Aidan had never met Donagh directly, but he'd grown up in the shadow of the lord's fist. It fell unevenly across Donagh's domain. Wealthy enough to sneer at the fines imposed for his own misdeeds, the lord invoked the law when it pleased him and scoffed when it did not. Aidan had long ago pegged the man as an eight, although less kind than most and even more unpredictable.

"Shut your mouth, or I'll see that shame shuts it foryou," Lord Donagh growled to the girl. "Since you can't pay the restitution accorded your crime, I'm tempted to chain you in the stocks and let pilgrims loose their spittle on you. Your mother's pleading is the only reason you're not there already."

Aidan's slender artisan's fingers tightened on his broom handle. He'd seen dishonored men in the stocks, with their ankles locked in place, unable to dodge any foul thing pitched their way. And spittle was hardly the worst thing that flew. The thought of the girl's pretty face splattered with rotten fruit or manure made him cringe.

The threat frightened her as well, evidently.

"Forgive me, Rí," she murmured, using the traditional title that acknowledged his rank. She knew better than to call him Father, Aidan noted, even though that's who he was. Unlike some noblemen, who boasted the count of their illegitimate children, Donagh preferred to ignore them. Aidan reflected how difficult it must have been for her to grow up amid so much pretense and gossip.

"But why have you brought her to me, lordship, if I may ask?" The abbot sounded dismayed. Some cousin of the lord, the two-ish fellow did not much like surprises.

His ears straining, Aidan risked moving closer.

"Put her to work in the kitchen or fields" came the reply. "She needs a dose of humility. Perhaps hard work and the Holy Spirit may cleanse her of sinful ways."

"But, Lord Donagh, surely a convent would be—"

"Don't be ridiculous. She's not worth the cost of entry at Saint Brigid's, not to mention the trip. Besides, we've had word of Norsemen on the move."

"Nearby, my lord?" Bartley squeaked. A Viking raid might bring fleeing farmers into the monastery's already bustling enclosure. The defensive ramparts could help repel raiders while the holy bones of the saint offered even more potent protection.

"Not that I've heard. But travel is out of the question. You have a wife here yourself, do you not? As does Father Niall."

"Yes, but—"

"She can be confined here, then. She's not handsome enough to threaten any chastity vows."

The abbey rules forbade argument, and besides, Aidan could hardly speak up from outside, but contrary thoughts crossed his mind. The lord must have meant mostly to brush off objections.

"If she causes you trouble," Donagh continued, "more extreme measures will be necessary."

"No, please," came the girl's voice, even softer than before. "Please don't chain me or send me to nuns far away."

"But, your lordship—"

"As a favor to me, Bartley. I will express my gratitude to you and Saint Nevin on Sunday. With silver."

"As you wish, then," the abbot sighed. Donagh's vassals griped about his rents and his temper, but few who tilled his lands or depended on his favor would dare speak against him. The abbot proved no exception. "We will try."

Aidan busied himself with his broom as Lord Donagh took his farewell. The lord emerged abruptly over the threshold with a scowl. Accustomed to the presence of both servants and monks, he did not give the thin, sharpfaced novice so much as a glance.

The stamping footsteps retreated toward the gate.

"Peddling false relics is a serious sin," Abbot Bartley said after a moment of silence.

"How do you know they're false?" the girl asked. Spirit had returned to her voice.

"Even we don't have fragments of the True Cross," he scoffed.

"Exactly," she said. "So you don't know what it looks like, do you? Touch it. 'Tis not oak or elm or alder, certainly. So this could be the wood of the Cross, couldn't it?"

Aidan grinned despite the sober accusation against the girl.

"Broken rake handle, more likely," the abbot said. "How would a lowly girl like you possess a relic like that?"

"A tree sprite told me where to dig near the base of its tree," she replied.

Aidan's eyebrows shot up. He'd heard a few peopleclaim to commune with the Otherworld, but her whirring eleven gave her words weight. They also troubled his heart.

Numbers had hummed to Aidan his entire life. By his twelfth year, however, when his father had first suggested the monastery, Aidan had stopped mentioning them to others. After a few winters of study, the thoughtful young loner had decided his awareness of numbers must be the whisper of God, a gift delivered to him and not anyone else. He had embraced the idea of joining the monks, and not only because his three older brothers would claim all of his father's cattle and pigs. Saints often heard voices, after all. Hearing the humming of numbers was not so different. Or so Aidan hoped.

Not long after formally becoming a novice last fall, he had cautiously brought up the subject with his mentor. Brother Eamon's reaction had dispelled Aidan's sense of privilege, planting a fear in its place: A whisper that nobody else heard might come not from God but from demons.

That same dread rose again now at the new arrival's claim.

"Enough lies, young charlatan," Bartley told the girl in his chamber. The abbot obviously held no belief in tree sprites and no fear of demons. "You would have done better to confess your sin. But I trust that a day of fasting will strengthen your soul."

"He said kitchen work," she protested, as more footsteps sounded. Feet scuffled as if their owner were dragged.

"There will be grain enough to grind on the morrow. Until then, my lamb, you can reflect."

"Wait! My wood-"

"You won't need it."

They were about to emerge. Aidan realized that he should have moved away sooner. Now he would almost surely be spotted and censured.

Copyright © 2008 by Joni Sensel

Meet the Author

JONI SENSEL is the author of the middle-grade novel Reality Leak as well as two picture books. She lives in Washington State.

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The Humming of Numbers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for something different to read, pick up a copy of THE HUMMING OF NUMBERS. Several things combine to make it a quite unique reading experience.

First, there is the setting - the 10th-century in a Celtic monastery. Most books I've read lately have been set in 2008 and have included the latest in modern technology. In THE HUMMING OF NUMBERS, the main character, Aidan, is in training to become a scribe. He lives at the abbey and is a novice monk. His days are spent following their strict rules and dreaming of the day he will be able to work magic with his calligraphy pen.

Next comes the magic. Aidan possesses a mysterious talent. He associates numbers with everyone he meets. It's almost as if each person emits an aura (hum) that communicates to Aidan. The story begins one day in the abbey when Aidan hears an eleven. Until that day he has never heard anyone above a ten. Most of those he meets hum the number three. From the moment Aidan meets Lana, her special number and her lovely face become the focus of his attention. As the story unfolds, it also becomes clear that Lana has her own unique magic, and Aidan hopes her magic can be used to save the lives of those around them.

Another element that adds a different dimension to this story is the presence of raiders attacking and pillaging the countryside around Aidan's abbey. Aidan's life is spared when he is sent on an errand away from the abbey. Lana insists on accompanying him, so she is safe as well. When the two realize the horrors that have destroyed the villages and killed many, they offer to use their talents to rescue the local lord's kidnapped young son. Complicating matters is the fact that Lana is actually the illegitimate child of the local lord and has been sent away to the abbey as punishment.

THE HUMMING OF NUMBERS is truly an escape into another time and place. It is filled with likeable characters whose lives revolve in an entirely different direction than ours. This book gives readers a peek into the past, into the world as it once was.
bookluver98 More than 1 year ago
a wonderful story, i even liked it more then twilight. A 2nd book would be great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Aiden, a novice monk in tenth century Ireland, is preparing to take his vows and join the abbey. Lana, an unusual girl, is sent to the abbey as punishment. Aiden can't help his overwhelming curiosity of the new guest, and finds himself drawn to her even though he knows he will only be punished for it later. Surprisingly enough Aiden is charged with Lana's well being during her stay in the abbey. Although their take on the world and God couldn't be more different, the pair realize that they alone have talents that make them different from others. Aiden hears a humming of numbers emitted from people and objects, he can use the humming to base a person's true nature. Lana is a wood witch, she is able to feel and communicate with trees and such. When their village is attacked and destroyed by Viking Norsemen, Aiden and Lana use their talents together to help defeat them. I enjoyed The Humming of Numbers, but at times I found the story lacking. Aiden's ability is explained well, but Lana's wood-witch nature wasn't elaborated at all. I understood the overall premise of it, but it would have been nice if it was explained in further detail. I liked the plot of the novel as well, but I wish it would have been more refined, it just felt incomplete and improbable. There wasn't anything in particular that drew me into the story either. I found the characters flat, I would have loved to known more about them. Overall, I think The Humming of Numbers was a good book, but it lacks some of the qualities, that I think would make it a great read.