If Eldric were to tell the story, he’d likely begin with himself. 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.
And so begins the story of Briony the Witch, who can hear and see the Old Ones in the swamp; Briony the deceitful, who damaged her sister’s mind and burnt down the library; Briony the poisonous vine, who let her stepmother die.
Just outside of London, Briony lives in Swampsea with her distant Reverend father and her mentally damaged sister. In this fantastical world, the inventions of the early 20th century – railways, motorcars and gaslights – are still trying to find their way into a small town where the swamp is haunted by the Old Ones, and witches are hanged by the neck until they are dead. Bad news for Briony who has been hiding her wicked state and wickeder deeds behind a mask of bland amusement and a soul filled with self hate. Especially now that the railway is coming, along with plans to drain the swamp, something the Old Ones will fight with every weapon they have.
And that weapon happens to be the only girl who can hear them.
With the railway come Eldric, the fidgety boy-man with the lion eyes who sees everything that Briony keeps hidden and asks questions of those things she knows to be facts.
In the town of Swampsea Franny Billingsley creates a lush, decaying world inhabited with one of the barbed characters I have read in a very long time. Briony hates herself for the wrongs she believes she has committed and for being a being she perceives to be sinful, truly hates herself. This is not an emo play for attention; she prides herself on never letting anyone see what is going on, but a deep hatred of self. Yet at the same time, she has this prickly sense of pride and humor that wind their way through her narration. This self loathing that Briony feels will make it hard for some readers to connect with her – I admit that I find it eye opening, and after a few pages momentarily wondered what I’d gotten myself into – but once you do connect, she is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in quite sometime. Briony is a puzzle – to herself and to others – and it takes Eldric’s arrival and his curiosity to make her question some of the pieces she’s already put in place.
It is because Briony is so inwardly focused on examining the pieces that Eldric may come across as a bit of a cipher. His character is there, but it’s doled out in bits and pieces as he questions and reconstructs our heroine. It is his arrival that allows Briony to escape from the monotony and preconceptions that have clouded her mind. It is his support that allows Briony to tell us the true stories…or at least as true as she can see them.
Chime is making its way on to many “Best of” lists and the awards are well deserved. Franny Billingsley has created a truly unique world filled with mystery and characters that capture you long after you stop reading. With its slightly antiquated language and self loathing main character, though, I know it won’t appeal to all readers. This is not an easy read, but if you stick with it, I believe you’ll find that it is a wonderful one. Highly recommended.
You can purchase Chime from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.
Book Source: why, my local library, of course. I read this book thanks to your tax dollars.