Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Briony has a secret. She believes her secret killed her stepmother, destroyed her twin sister’s mind, and threatens all the children in the Swampsea. She yearns to be rid of her terrible secret, but risks being hanged if she tells a soul. That’s what happens to witches: they’re hanged by the neck until dead.

Then Eldric arrives — Eldric with his golden mane and lion eyes and electric energy — and he refuses to believe anything dark about Briony. But he wonders what’s been buried beneath her self-hatred, hidden in Rose’s mangled thoughts, and whispered about by the Old Ones. And Briony wonders how Eldric can make her want to cry.

Especially when everyone knows that witches can’t cry.

A wild, haunting mystery and romance that is as beautifully written as it is captivating.

Considering I’ve read this book three times in the past two months, I think it’s about time I sat down and wrote a review on it (it’s also about time I shelled out some cash and bought a copy of my own, which I did this past weekend).  First off, I must say that this book will probably not be for everyone, seeing as the ratings on both Library Thing and Goodreads are all over the place. Even I was unsure if I was going to like it when I began my initial reading. The narrator, Briony, had this odd internal voice and she was talking to this Brownie creature that apparently only she could see, and I was wondering if she was mentally unstable, and it was all just sort of weird, and I almost stopped reading then and there. Every time I thought I would set the book aside, I kept going back to the opening line:

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.

Now, if you please.”

Billingsley certainly didn’t pull a sucker punch with that one, did she? I mean, what kind of person commits a crime worthy of being hanged and then asks so politely for the sentence to be carried out? A darn interesting one, that’s who. And so I read on and discovered for myself just how interesting Briony was. The internal voice that I previously found so jarring turned into a unique thing of beauty, because Briony is a storyteller with a genius for painting vivid pictures with words.* What I think I like best about her, though, is her delightfully sassy sense of humor and her feistiness**, traits which in the hands of less capable writers can come off as cattiness or outright bitchiness, but in Billingsley’s is an endless source of amusement.

As wonderful as her spiritedness is, Briony comes with her share of baggage. She has the second sight — she can see and speak with the faeries, the Old Ones, that populate this corner of England — and has been informed by her late stepmother that she is a witch and has committed several reprehensible crimes against her family as a result. To say that Briony has a tremendous case of self-loathing because of this would be the understatement of the century.

That is where the delightful, carefree, artistic Eldric comes into play. He is a bad boy, though not  in the traditional chain-smoking-covered-in-tattoos-motorcycle-riding sense, but the kind who, after being bet a thousand paperclips,  accidentally breaks a stained glass window and gets expelled from university, who forms a secret bad boy club with Briony and teaches her how to box, and who sneaks Briony out of the house for a late-night initiation for said bad boy club in the swamp, which results in both their fathers believing him to be a very bad boy indeed, if you catch my drift.

The two of them form this wonderfully playful, yet tender friendship that begins to blossom into something more as Eldric helps Briony to learn to trust him in unraveling the secrets of her hidden past and teaches her that she is loveable and able to love in return. The great thing about their relationship is that this rescuing is not all one-sided. Briony, as shattered as she might be emotionally, still shows great strength in other areas and is able to play the hero for Eldric on several occassions.

These two have joined Jamie and Claire of the Outlander series as one of my favorite literary couples of all times and Chime has quickly become one of my favorite reads of 2011 and is well on its way to becoming one of my go-to comfort reads in the likes of the fabulous Jellicoe Road and Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. That is high praise indeed.

Related Posts: Books that Rock: Chime by Franny Billingsley


*I’d call her a poet, but she’d probably remind me of her failed attempt at composing a limerick on page 230, whereas I would remind her that that poem had me giggling like a mad fiend.

**She amused me from the moment she and Eldric are introduced:

“And you?” said Eldric. After a heartbeat of silence, I glanced up. Eldric was looking at me, this golden London boy, looking at me with amber eyes. “What am I to call you?”

“You may call me Briony,” I said, “which makes it awfully convenient because so does everyone else.”


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