Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

In the Swampsea live the Old Ones, horrors as ancient as time. Though the villagers fear the spirits, only the witches can see them. And witches must be hanged. Briony used to roam the marshes as wolfgirl, fast and sly and friend to the dreaded swamp creatures. But that Briony's gone -- she was lost in the fire that destroyed the Old Ones' stories, when Stepmother discovered her guilt and swore never to tell Father. The new Briony holds her deadly secret close, and keeps the world at bay. Yet, things are not always what they seem, and in the Swamp lies a truth that might just set her free.

I can honestly say I've never read anything like Chime -- I bow before Franny Billingsley's imagination. Everything from the language to the plot to the pacing has a style and rhythm all its own in this modern day Grimm's fairy tale. It's clear that Billingsley delights in language, using it in inventive and unusual ways. Her incredible wordsmithery gives flair to this gritty tale. Chime is an intelligent novel, with Dickensian wordplay and echoes of Shakespeare in the metaphysical musings on the immortality of literature. Yet this story is not pedantic or abstruse. The novel is earthy and intuitive, accessible to anyone who enjoys the monsters and magic that lurk in the human imagination.

This isn't a whitewashed Disney tale. Chime is dark and grim and macabre, definitely not a bedtime story for the faint of heart. Billingsley's unflinchingly visceral descriptions will be emblazoned on readers' minds. Life isn't always rainbows and butterflies, and the rawness of the tale acknowledges that truth. Life can be cold, hard, and unfair -- and in this story, it is. Yet there's always light at the end of the tunnel, and Briony's journey out of the darkness is heartening, if harrowing.

It's difficult to pin down the novel's time period -- it is almost timeless. While the Swampsea seems colonial, the allusions are more modern, and the tale itself seems ancient. Briony imbibes this ethereal quality, both wise and naive, selfish and selfless. She lays it all on the table for the reader, and her authenticity is undeniable and bracing. Briony is an unforgettable heroine. Her crystal clear cadence sets the tone for the novel: she can be cold and cynical, yet her life is so spectacularly harsh that readers can't help but sympathize with her. Her wonderful imagination shines through in every word, from her wry use of understatement to the personification of the Swamp which permeates the tale.

Eldric, the electric boy with the lion's eyes, is also not the typical hero. He's like a cross between Henry Tilney and Prince Po -- carefree and playful, yet surprisingly worldly. Readers will fall in love with lion-boy and wolfgirl, as Billingsley shows (not tells) their spine-tingling romance. Though readers may foresee the final truth, it's impossible to tell what twisting path the novel will take to reach it -- just hold on tight and enjoy the ride. Chime is utterly unique and brilliantly creative -- a master class effort from a phenomenal talent.


Click here to purchase Chime by Franny Billingsley.


Candace said...

This was one of those must buys for me and now it's been on my shelf a couple months and I STILL haven't been able to fit it in. I'm SO excited to read it though and am glad you loved it :)

Lauren M said...

Yay! I loved Chime so much--the writing and story were just incredible! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)

Rummanah Aasi said...

I just received this and am SO excited to read it. I've read nothing but raved reviews. It's got everything that I love in a book- great setting, writing, and characters.

Bella said...

Oh, wow, this book completely blew my mind, too ... it's in a league all of its own!! (",)

GMR said...

Wow....that was some review. -adds to must read list - I've heard some feedback on this one, but none with quite that much flair. Way to go and thanks for sharing. ^_^

Midnyte Reader said...

This is a FABULOUS review. You picked up on things I didn't and I agree with every single thing you said. It's really an unforgettable story isn't it?

Lori said...

I'm so happy you loved it! It was...incredible! Definitely my favorite book of the year, so far.

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