Since her stepmother’s recent death, 17-year-old Briony Larkin knows that if she can keep two secrets–that she is a witch and that she is responsible for the accident that left Rose, her identical twin, mentally compromised–and remember to hate herself always, no other harm will befall her family in their Swampsea parsonage at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The arrival of Mr. Clayborne, a city engineer, and his university-dropout son, Eldric, makes Briony’s task difficult. Clayborne’s plan to drain the swamp has made the Old Ones unhappy, particularly the Boggy Mun, who has plagued the village’s children with swamp cough in retaliation. When Rose’s lingering illness turns into a cough, Briony knows that she must do whatever it takes, even revealing her secrets, to save her sister.
While thwarting the advances of an arsenic-addicted suitor, Briony must also deny her feelings for Eldric, even as he helps her solve the puzzle that has become her life. Exploring the powers of guilt and redemption, Billingsley (The Folk Keeper, 1999) has crafted a dark, chilling yet stunning world. Briony’s many mysteries and occasional sardonic wit make her a force to be reckoned with.
Writing about Chime is rather hard for me, because it’s one of those books I loved so much, I feel like no review will ever do it justice. I bought Chime on release day, and devoured it. I was three hours late to a friend’s party because I just had to finish it before leaving.
For the past few weeks, every time someone I follow on twitter asked “what should I read next” I’ve suggested Chime. I’m so glad to see that it looks like word has spread, and more and more bloggers are reviewing it. It is, in my opinion, the best book of 2011 thus far.
Chime is one of the most magical and romantic stories I’ve read in a long time. It is reminiscent of a fairy tale, but with none of the fluff. Because if you can say one thing about Chime, it’s that it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of life. Death, loss, and lies abound.
It’s hard to share my feelings without giving away all the books secrets. Needless to say, there are plenty of plot twists, mysteries, and even a bit of unreliable narration to keep it interesting.
Briony is a self-described “wicked girl”. She’s beautiful, and broken, and believes herself to be an evil witch, who must hide her secret at the cost of her life.
“Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.”
Briony has been torturing herself and silently suffering since the death of her stepmother. A stepmother who as the only person alive who knew Briony was a witch, drilled many “rules” into her head.
“Let’s review the rules, Briony: What, above all, mustn’t you forget? You mustn’t forget to hate yourself.”
Briony is so obviously damaged by stepmother’s rules,thinly veiled emotional abuse, and her guilt over “harming” her mentally handicapped twin sister Rose, that much of the book is her inner thoughts and asides about how evil she is, and why she shouldn’t enjoy life. In many books, this would get rather annoying, but Briony speaks in such a way that you wish with all your heart that her life could change, that she could be happy.
Not everything about her life is doom and gloom, however. Much of Briony’s social commentary about her fellow villagers, and their backwards ways had me laughing out loud. Just as funny: Rose’s unrestrained discussions of who she does not like, or what she does not want to do. Rose is a spitfire of a girl, and much smarter than many townsfolk give her credit for.
The setting of Chime was gorgeously creepy and atmospheric. You can easily visualize the isolation of her small village, surrounded by mysterious swamps overrun with faery folk called the “old ones”. As one of the few people who can see the old ones (due to being a witch), Briony has the run of the swamps. Like Briony, I was a wood-running wild child, who grew up playing in the forest, dunes, and marshlands around my house. Chime perfectly captures the twin feelings of delight and terror you get from running through a forbidden playland that you both love and fear.
Briony’s interactions with Eldric, in and out of the swamp, are one of the only true things in her life. They become best friends, bonding over their shared love of being bad. (This book had me screaming “YES! Finally a truly “naughty” love interest.) They form a fraternity “Bad Boy-ificus” to celebrating mischief, and together they laugh over the Latin language, and learn useful skills like boxing, with hilarious results. Eldric is drawn to Briony, who, like the swamps she lives in, finds her wild and beautiful. Their romance is slow and unsure, and full of sweetness.
In getting to know Eldric, Briony uncovers the horrible truth about her past, and discovers who she really is. Which brings me to the heart of Chime: It could easily be called a mystery, fantasy, or hysterical romance. But at its core, Chime is a story about guilt, forgiveness, and falling in love with yourself. Chime is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. From the magical language, the historical details, to the mythology— it all rings perfect.
Chime, published by Dial books, is available now.
Worth Noting: Chime took six years for Franny Billingsley to write. She has said she’s at work on more books set in the Chime universe. I will be pre-ordering them as soon as they are officially announced, even if I have to wait another decade. : )