Author: Franny Billingsley
Publisher: Dial (US)/ Bloomsbury PLC (UK)
Publication date: March (US) / April (UK) 2011
Hardcover: 361 pages
Before Briony’s stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family’s hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it’s become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.
Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He’s as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she’s extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn’t know.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did we get this book: We both received review copies from the publishers on both sides of the pond.
Why did we read this book: Chime has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal, and with every new review our interest only grew. Plus, isn’t that cover GORGEOUS?1
Ana: Listen. Come close and I will tell you a love story: my love story with this book. It wasn’t love at first sight because it wasn’t what I was expecting at first and the writing is different so it took me a while to adjust. But by page 50, I was a goner. Chime is a true gem: it has wonderful, beautiful, unique prose; an unreliable narrator; a wholly original mythology; an amazing, fascinating heroine; and a swoon-worthy romance. As you can see it has “Ana” written all over it and I loved it, I loved it so much I want the entire world to know about it.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree with Ana that the writing style for Chime is a bit offputting at first, but once you become accustomed to Briony’s strange, almost poetic voice, it is what makes this book. I truly enjoyed Chime – even if the plot was a little bit lacking, the characters (particularly the narrative voice) are absolutely fantastic. It’s not really a “Thea” book, so I’m not swooning and head over heels in love (unlike, say Rachel Neumeier’s The City in the Lake), but it’s a solid Good Book and one that certainly deserves attention.
On the Plot:
Ana: Briony is a witch – and a truly wicked one. Her crimes are numerous, amongst them her twin sister Rose’s condition which requires 24/7 care and attention. Her penance is to hate herself, to carry the guilt and fear at all times and to deny herself the pleasures that a young woman might enjoy. She no longer runs wild in the swamp, nor does she talk with the Brownie who used to be her friend. She also knows that is truly incapable of love, tears and joy. In any case, what matters is to take care of Rose like she promised her late Stepmother. But then Rose gets the dreaded Swamp Cough, an infectious, incurable disease and perhaps Briony can help – but that would mean breaking that promise to Stepmother, wouldn’t it? To complicate matters even further, there comes along a boy-man, Eldric, with his mane lion-hair, and his wonderful boy-man allure. What is a wicked girl to do?
It is going to be hard to talk about Chime’s plot without spoiling too much so you will have to excuse us for the cryptic attempt to review the plot that will surely follow.
Chime begins thusly:
I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.
How can anyone resist an opening line like that? It had that something that makes you want to keep on reading right? The story progresses as Briony recounts the events that lead to that moment. As aforementioned, it took a while to get accustomed to the writing style and to Briony’s voice but I did eventually, to the point where the prose is one of the aspects I love the most about the book. My copy is completely earmarked. Wait a minute, let me show you what I am talking about:
“I’m awfully tired,” I said. “Can you be quick about it?”
Poor Cecil, consumed by a grand passion, only to be told to compress his love manifesto into a haiku.
“I won’t try to excuse my behaviour,” he said. “It was despicable.”
Or a limerick.
There was once a rotter named Cecil,
Whose Love Interest wished he could be still.
Oh well. Unlike some, at least I’ve never pretended to be a poet.
We were to have new clothes.
We were to have new clothes because I tried to bargain with the Boggy Mun and he outwitted me. I should feel guilty, but I don’t. Father shouldn’t feel guilty, but he does. We were to have new clothes because I made Rose sick.
This, to me, is Hell.
On and on ring the lunatic bells.
This is the sort of writing that I LOVE. But that is not all that I loved about the book, oh no. The story itself is riveting because it has wholly unique original mythology with nary a vampire, werewolf, fairy in sight. Instead, you have stuff like the Old Ones, and Swamp things and a Chime Child who is half way between human and the Old Ones. You also have witches like Briony who are to be hanged in public and Dark Muses who suck the life of men. Horrible things happen in this book and there are real repercussions from dealing with the paranormal world within the story.
And the world and the stories are disclosed to the reader little by little, because Briony’s narrative is full of SECRETS and what is she not telling us and WHY, which brings me to another aspect that I loved about the book which is one of my favourite narrative formats, that of an unreliable narrator; which then brings me to a halt here because I can’t say anything more for fear of spoiling the surprises and the twists but OMG, when the time comes and you realise what is happening and what has happened, it is brilliant and the clues ARE there and have been there since the start and yeah. It is seriously good stuff right there, my friends. I was up to 2 am to finish this book and it has been a long, long time since I did that because my beauty sleep is precious and I do not renounce it to just any book, it has to be for something really special and special this one is.
If I had to pick anything remotely negative about Chime, I would say that there are some awkward transitions between scenes. Plus, the story is supposed to be set in England but I never got the feeling of location. To be honest, it felt like I was reading a story set in America. But those things? Did not really matter to me at all.
Thea: From a pure writing perspective, Chime is fantastic. Written entirely in Briony’s unreliable first-person narrative, we are given a strange, filtered view of Briony’s swampy world, rife with Old Ones and spirits. Although I disagree with Ana – this is a traditional witch/spirit/fairy tale (Brownies are fairies!), albeit of a darker and more earthy/marshy variety – I think the way in which this universe with its spirits are presented is fascinating. Briony’s turns of phrases, from astute observations such as:
This is what I want. I want people to take care of me. I want them to force comfort upon me. I want the soft-pillow feeling that I associate with memories of being ill when I was younger, soft pillows and fresh linens and satin-edged blankets and hot chocolate. It’s not so much the comfort itself as knowing there’s someone who wants to take care of you.
to her graduated sentences:
This is the girl called Briony.
This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained.
This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the Boggy Mun.
This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the Boggy Mun; who sent the swamp cough.
This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the Boggy Mun; who sent the swamp cough; which Briony found out about through the ghost-children.
And so on and so forth. Awesome. Simply awesome.
This said, the book stands at a significant 350+ pages, which is lot of pages for a book in which nothing really happens. In this Smuggler’s opinion, the plot was wonderfully executed, but the “twist” was kind of predictable. I mean…it’s pretty obvious. That said, being cognizant of the twist does not detract from the pleasure of reading the book, and the manner in which Briony discovers the truth is what makes Chime work in spite of its simplicity and lack of true plot.
The only negatives I had with regards to the book lay with the setting (as Ana mentioned above) – I wasn’t exactly sure where this was supposed to be, although from Briony’s many London references, it must be in England (although the witch hangings, swamps, spirit magic, and Briony’s manner of speaking/thinking DO scream American New England to me). Also, while I think the romance develops between Briony and Eldric in a wonderful way, I thought the ultimate tearful declaration of love to be a little bit…cheesy. Then again, that’s just me (and probably a minority opinion!).
On the Characters:
Ana: I think we can agree by now that we can forget about any semblance to a collected, coolheaded review, right? Excellent, let me tell you then my favouritest thing about the book. Briony.
She is the best female protagonist I have seen in a long long time in YA. She is AWESOME. She is a flawed, complex character. She truly believes she is wicked and admits to many things like petty jealousy or hating her father and how she loves the fact that is smart and has no problems with that. She also knows the difference between lust and love and admits to the first with a flair and easiness that I don’t usually see. Which is totally cool. And let me tell you: the things this girl goes through; no scrap that, the things she puts herself through, she is expert at torturing herself with her guilt for the things she believes she has done. I love how she says that she is incapable of love and has no feelings inside of her but then in one of my favourite scenes, when a boy teases her sister, she proceeds to beat him up to a pulp. She is fierce, (my) Briony is and I felt fiercely protective of her and was completely on her side. She is also a little bit weird and I loved her even more for that.
And then, there is the romance. OH, FINALLY MY SWEET LORD OF TOTALLY AWESOME BOOKS, finally a YA romance I can get 100% onboard of. It starts slowly (no insta-love or insta-attraction) and it builds towards love from friendship as Briony and Eldric (*swoon*) share stuff like BOXING LESSONS and a bad-boy/bad-girl club in which they speak Real Latin (Real Latin = made up words like “Stupidubus”) and even as she says she can’t love him (because you know how she is incapable of love? Apparently she is also unlovable *sobs for my Briony*), you see she is totally falling in love and so is he and it is completely and totally swoon-worthy and then the ending has one of the BEST declarations of love I have seen and I hugged the book when I was done and could feel little love bubbles coming from eyes. Seriously.
Thea: *Dodges love bubbles* 2 Ok. I agree completely that Briony is an awesome specimen of a character. I personally don’t love her and want to put her in my pocket or anything like that – but she’s a fantastic narrator, and her multiple issues after years of self-loathing and emotional/psychological abuse are completely understandable and so ingrained in Briony’s psyche. I LOVED the way this was handled, how her memories are faulty, how she blocks the truth and replaces them with other scenes – because that is who Briony is, and her narrative is what makes this book.
I also enjoyed Eldric as a character, and I, too, was relieved that these two begin the story as friends (not as insta-drool-I-must-have-you-or-I-will-DIE attraction). The fraternitus they create, the gradual emergence of feelings – it’s good stuff. That said, I was a little less impressed with the “boxing lessons” (which is actually just one snippet of a scene), and the thing that always bothers me in these types of romances is how fragile the female character is. Even though Briony learns how to “box” (really, she lears how to make a fist without breaking a thumb, which is kind of intuitive, isn’t it?), it doesn’t really amount to anything because she can’t defend herself against anyone. Yes, she beats up a boy that teases her sister, but he’s younger and much smaller than her (which is actually kind of disturbing when you think about it, but it does make sense with Briony’s character).
And as for that final scene…I will just chalk it up to different tastes. I am probably one of the most immature people out there with regards to romance, so when it comes to dramatic, mutual-tearful declarations of love, I tend to crack up. I understand that this is a personal failing – but if you, dear readers, are anything like me, you’ll probably feel similarly at the end of Chime. There’s a whole lotta nacho cheese coming at you. You’ve been warned.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: If you can’t tell it by now, I loved this book with a force of a thousand supernovas. If I had to compare it with other books, I would say that Chime is a mixture of The Girl with the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron, Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves and Liar by Justine Larbalestier and I LOVED all these books so of course I was bound to love Chime so much. As of now, it is my favourite 2011 book and I would not be surprised if it made my top 10.
Thea: I truly enjoyed Chime and think it is one of the most refreshing contemporary YA paranormal novels out there at the moment. To put things in Ana’s astronomy terms, let’s say, I enjoyed it with the force of the planet Mars. Accessible(-ish), somewhat familiar, ultimately really cool – but not my favorite astral body in the solar system.3
Notable/Quotes: The prologue:
I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.
I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories—the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp. How can you possibly think me innocent? 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.
I know you believe you’re giving me a chance—or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but please believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I’ve already told you, which is that I’m wicked. Can’t the Chime Child take my word for it?
In any event, where does she expect me to begin? The story of a wicked girl has no true beginning. I’d have to begin with the day I was born.
If Eldric were to tell the story, he’d likely begin with himself, on the day he arrived in the Swampsea. That’s where proper stories begin, don’t they, when the handsome stranger arrives and everything goes wrong?
But this isn’t a proper story, and I’m telling you, I ought to be hanged.
Ana: 9 – Damn Near Perfection (and leaning toward 10)
Thea: 7 – Very Good (leaning towards an 8)
Reading Next: Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon
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