“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.”
Thoughts: In many ways, Franny Billingsley’s Chime is a difficult novel to describe. While targeted to young adults, many of the themes are predominantly adult and rather psychological in nature. The supernatural elements are understated, making the reader question whether they are a figment of Briony’s active imagination or are indeed real. In addition, Chime contains elements of a traditional murder mystery as well as a romantic coming-of-age story. However, it is neither of these things in its entirety. Instead, the various elements combine to form a completely new type of story, one that does not fit easily into any one genre and yet manages to maintain a poignant and powerful simplicity.
Briony is one of those deliciously simple characters who insist on making things more complicated and difficult than they are or need to be. In Briony’s case, it is her unwavering opinion that she is not only a witch, but one that uses her powers for selfish means. Her entire life is spent secretly atoning for sins she supposedly committed when she was younger. Yet, the reader instantly spots that there is more to Briony’s story than even she is aware. One’s desire to uncover the truth and ultimately save Briony is the driving force behind the novel, and with the exquisite phrases and descriptions, the reader becomes an active participant in the unfolding events, ultimately heightening the suspense even more.
Chime has an otherworldly quality that makes it difficult for the reader to determine the time and place of the novel. While Ms. Billingsley does include clues to make it known that the setting is rural England at the beginning of the 21st century, without these details, Swampsea could be in any country, and the story itself would be just as realistic set in the New World among the Puritans as it would be in the 1920s. This unearthly feature exacerbates all of Briony’s secrets, increasing the doom and gloom as well as her sense of guilt and urgency.
From the opening sentence, which is one of the better opening sentences ever read, the reader knows that Chime is going to be an amazing story. The setting is appropriately mysterious and eerie, and the unknown forces behind some of the novel’s more thrilling scenes are decidedly uncanny – supernatural without being overtly so. Briony is a young girl forced to grow up early and bear more than her share of guilt. Her frustrations with her father and with her lot in life make her extremely sympathetic, escalating the story’s overall tension and Briony’s fear of discovery. The answers, when revealed, are brilliantly simple and obvious with hindsight, but Ms. Billingsley manages to keep the truth buried beneath layers of secrets. Chime is another excellent example of a YA novel that succeeds in appealing to those outside of its target audience.
Acknowledgements: Mine. All mine.