I never would have read Chime if it hadn’t been the selection of a book club I belong to. I bought it used and let it sit for a few weeks. The cover and description were interesting enough, I just kept finding other things to read. When I finally picked it up I was immediately drawn to the pretty, pretty words–yet it didn’t hook me–I kept setting it down after only reading a chapter or two. I would continue to pick it up though and knock out another twenty or so pages. Finally, a few days ago, I let the unique tone and tenor of the story draw me in completely and I’m so glad I did.
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.
Franny Billingsley has crafted a superb fantasy novel. Her prose is gorgeous; the pacing and phrasing creative and rich. I found myself rereading passages aloud just so I could enjoy hearing the words play off each other, words like slurp, swallow, and burble. Franny’s wonderfully descriptive phrases, like “a fingernail of fear scraped down my back,” and “a gulp of silence hung between us” just blew me away.
When we meet the narrator, Briony Larkin, she hates herself with a fervor, and the mental berating she heaps upon herself is at times sad to read. The poor girl needs a hug and there is just no one there to give it to her, nor anyone she will allow to administer it if there was. That is until Eldric shows up.
Oh, Eldric. Eldric is twenty-two and being called to the swamp by his father after causing a bit of a ruckus at school. Eldric likes to get into trouble, he’s the opposite of Briony, yet they are so very, very similar. Both so sharp of wit and intelligence. The dialogue Franny creates between these two characters is just as enjoyable as her prose, if not more so. Theirs is a wonderful friendship, but what seventeen year-old wouldn’t fall in love with a beautiful boy-man from London? This thirty-something-something had no problem herself.
Fantasy, adventure, and mystery abound in this very charming book. Love, jealousy, rage, and terror show up too, but this is also a story about the journey to redemption. Briony is a character that you can sympathize with even when you want to smack her for her obstinance. Holy moly, is this kid stubborn, but she’s also very loving and protective of her twin, Rose, who needs care. She’s a lovely heroine to root for.
I was really pleased at how well the fantasy and period elements (the story is set in 1910s rural England) were weaved together. Descriptions of the Old Ones that inhabit the swamp were rich and creative, as were the common elements of the village Briony lived in. It was all so very well done.
Chime might not have been on your radar before this review, but I urge you to give it a chance. Let the writing draw you in and you’ll be rewarded with a story that truly does have it all. Also, I totally envisioned Max Irons as Eldric, so there’s that.