Summary: Briony committed a crime. She killed her stepmother and made her twin sister, Rose, sick. Briony’s guilt is a cloak that she wraps herself and now can’t imagine not wearing it. To escape from her burden, she goes to the swamp where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. In addition to her overbearing guilt, Briony can also see the Old Ones, a clear indication that she is a witch and therefore should be 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 a young lad named 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.
Review: Chime is a gorgeously written novel, where each word, each character, and each setting were carefully chosen and used effectively. After reading the first page of the book, I knew this book would be different. The dialogue and society evoked an old fashioned fairy tale story. What sets Chime apart from the numerous other books that focus on folklore is its unique use of magic and settings of swamps. I’ve never thought of a swamp being a magical place before, but Billingsley makes it work.
Along with the fabulous world building, the characters of Chime are really the best part of the book. Briony is the narrator of our story. We spend much time in her head. The use of stream of consciousness is expertly done in Chime. I was completely immersed in Briony’s tortured and complex psyche. Her voice is so strong and so distinct. Her guilt is palpable and makes you feel like you are carrying her world on your shoulders. For much of the novel, Briony suffers from self hatred and shame. She believes she is the sole person responsible in bringing chaos to her family and should be sentenced to death because of this. Though she did get a bit whiny at times, I found her to be strong willed and she didn’t always make the right choices, which reminded her and the reader that despite her claims of what she is, she retains her humanity. I have to confess that I didn’t warm up to Briony right away and it’s really not her fault either. Her name just echoed a character with the same name that I detested and who actually should feel guilty and ashamed for what she’d done- Briony from Atonement by Ian McEwan. I took me a few pages to get over that bump.
Eldric, Briony’s love interest, is wonderful. His charming, out going, adventurous and laid back attitude balances Briony’s dark mood. He really lights up the pages. He and Briony worked so well together, and I’m pleased to say that their relationship seemed real. It was based on friendship and then advanced to young love rather than young lust. Their interactions, jokes and banter, felt very real and helped balance the dark, heavy themes of the book.
Rose, Briony’s sister, who is mentally compromised, is sweet and young at heart. Though people are quick to dismiss her as being ill, she is much keen and observant of her surroundings. Rose’s participation in Briony’s mysterious is crucial to unlocking what really happened to her and their stepmother.
What deterred me the most from loving Chime is that the plot moved very slowly, particularly in the first half of the book. I found many of the plot twists to be predictable and knew them before they occurred in the story. The pace does pick up during the second half as we learn more about Eldric’s father’s plan to drain the swamp which 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. After a while, I stopped reading the book for its plot but rather sat back and watched Briony come to an epiphany about what is true and false about a mystery that has consumed her life. Though the descriptions allude that Eldric is solely responsible for her awakening, he really isn’t. He does indeed help Briony but it is Briony herself who slowly puts the pieces together and has the strength to accept the consequences. That being said, Chime is a brilliantly written book that does include a very dark, gritty, magical world along with just the right dose of romance to prevent being steeped into darkness, but it is ultimately a novel that explores the tortured psyche and the powerful forces of guilt, redemption, and self love. If you decide to pick this book up, just be patient and keep reading. It does get better once you get through the slow half.
Readalikes: Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray or The Prophecy of Sisters by Michelle Zink