Author: Franny Billingsley
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Sometimes you expect a book to be one thing, and it ends up becoming something else. A case of cocoon versus butterfly, if you think about it. Chime is one of those books. The cover is pretty, but gives one a vibe for paranormal romance. While romantic intentions do occur in the book, it's definitely not the PNR variety we see in YA. It's pages open instead to a beautifully rendered world that is part history, part fantasy. The first page astounded me with how beautiful the passages were, and it only got better from there...
There is nothing more gruesome to Briony than her secret. Her secret is the cause for her life's many misfortunes. The death of Stepmother. Rose and her addled mind. Even, perhaps, the haunting sickness that overcomes the children of the Swampsea with racking coughs until they slowly fade away. Moving back to the Swampsea after Stepmother's death has left her entire family out of sorts. Her father continues to go on inspiring the people with his holy ways, but seems to forget about his daughters. Is there no escape from bad Briony?
Briony finds things all the more frustrating when Eldric moves in with them in Swampsea. Getting kicked out of school has left him in a tight position, and he is more than welcomed in their household. He's just a man-beast to Briony. Rose doesn't particularly care for men, either. Men are just another thing to worry about in the Swamp. Dark Muses, the Dead Hand, and even the fabled Boggy Mun. Swampsea is not safe for people inside or out. It's also home to witches who ride broomsticks and do black magic on the poor townsfolk. There is many a reason why Stepmother told Briony to never go in their again.
She can't go in because she is a witch. That is the secret she holds closest to her heart. The black as night secret that would get her hung on the gallows for any kind of indiscretion. Bad, bad Briony is not deserving of this life, but she must not tell this secret. Even to Eldric, whom she and Rose begin to befriend. Not her father, who firmly believes in the right of the law. The appearance of a few witches that causes the need for a trial sets things off once again. The Chime child - someone born neither on one day nor the other - has the final say in the destruction of witches. Little can Briony know that she will tell her story in the same position as the poor woman who is believed to be a witch.
The unreliable narrator is perhaps one of the most difficult but rewarding writing devices in YA fiction. Do you believe the person telling the story or not? Where does fact end and fiction begin? Briony is such an interesting character to use this with, because she isn't a pathological liar or a criminal. She has no reason to be false about her accounts. If anything, her position requires her to be truthful. She starts and ends her tale on the verge of being executed for witchcraft. It brings to question an entirely different mindset. How is the character's history different from the historical reality? We see people like her father and Stepmother come into the picture, and she has them stereotyped. Yet we know they are not like that. There is a great sense of layer to the story. Briony narrates in a self-depreciating voice. Doom and personal gloom. It draws you in, and before long you get caught up in a frenzied and poet mass of storytelling that is both an outward and personal struggle to find out where the truth is among the muck. You question the existence of love and light in a world that is both dark and dreary yet a near parody in how it's written. Briony really makes you think.
This is one volume where the characters are fleshed out on all parts. Rose is the best example of someone with an 'addled mind' as I put it above that I have seen in a while. It's so hard to write a character like that in historical context because one has to put it into perspective. Rose can be childlike, but Billingsley doesn't shy away from making her have some interesting and thought-altering ideas and situations. Their father is at first glance another workaholic, but he too emerges as someone who has more care and thought behind his actions. There was something really intense when learning his truths later on in the story that made me respect his character. Eldric was my favorite, though. Light and fun and the complete opposite of Briony in so many ways, he was the flame to her oil lamp. The way the narration would lighten and Eldric would joke and chuckle, bargain and deduce...it was brilliant! He made his way into my heart, and I never supported a romance more.
If you can't tell, there is an undeniable and newfound love (and I use this term very seriously) for the writing style of Franny Billingsley. It's raw and poetic and beautiful. She made me feel like I was in a demented storybook. Swampsea is so easily imaginable. I loved the subtle differences and similarities to our time. She also does the fantasy in a way as to be accessible but not overbearing. It feels the kind of magical that you find in children's stories. It just makes total sense with everything. Her adjectives and use of narrative are really effective. I wondered how her style would match up with Nancy Werlin's, considering a blurb is from her, and I was happy to find it was the same type of high quality stuff. So much better than some other trite things people try to pass off as extremely well written. This, this is awesome.
Let this convince you to read this book. It's subtle and harsh, with the voice of a poet and the storytelling that begs to be remembered and thought upon. You will find the thoughts and whirs of story events completely appetizing, and I assure you that you will find nothing more obsession worthy than this type of story. I intend to plow through this author's backlist and push this book on anyone willing to lend an ear. Disappointment cannot be found in it's presence, in my opinion.
Cover: It's dark and a little misleading, but I think in hardback it will look smashing.
Rating: 5.0 Stars
Copy: Received for a publicity tour (Thank you Wiley and Penguin!)