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Up this week is a review of a beautiful book. Chime features one of my favorite witches, Briony Larkin!
Written by Franny Billingsley
National Book Award Finalist
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
I thought Libba Bray captured it perfectly in her blurb: “Moving, creepy, intense, sensual, and absolutely exquisitely written.” As she said, there was an underlying creepy, intense feel throughout the book in the best possible way.
The imagery in this book is beautiful. The swamp, the sun, the wind, the clouds—they’re all alive.
With every step, we squeezed the lungs of the swamp. It breathed out mist and poison.
The graveyard yawned with its rotting breath….
The wind slapped at the ancient trees. It slapped at me, too, but I slapped back and pushed ahead.
There’s some wonderful character traits in here: Rose taking everything literally and piping up when you least expect it, Eldric’s constant fidgeting, Cecil’s, um, obtuseness. They were all so likeable in their own ways.
I thought Briony’s character was fascinating. She’s wicked—I mean, she tells us over and over she’s wicked, she’s a witch after all—and while you feel that, you also see her other side that she herself can’t see.
I loved Briony’s snark and wit, which reminded me of Mim from Mosquitoland and Hawthorn from The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett (clearly there’s a pattern in the characters and voices I love). She had wonderful insights into little details of the world that I enjoyed:
[About wine and bread being spread to keep the evil out] This has always seemed rather ghoulish to me, as though one were smearing the threshold with Puree of Christ.
One needs an entire absence of Rose to be able to think about her. If she died, I could think about saving her all the time.
There’s a riddle in there. I’ll suggest it to the Sphinx.
Either I was mad, or Cecil was mad. I am not the sort of person to go mad, so the honors go to Cecil.
“I must leave the instant the clock strikes the half hour,” I said, like a twentieth century Cinderella. Both Cinderella and I needed to keep an eye on the time. She had her slipper problems, I had my ghosts.
The stakes and tension were high throughout—life and death scenarios with Briony always stuck in the middle.
I enjoyed the romance between Briony and Eldric and liked that at first they appeared to be complete opposites, but as the story went on, you realized they were more similar than meets the eye.
There were some brilliant uses of point of view in this book, shifting from first person to third and sometimes even second. It was done so seamlessly I wouldn’t have noticed if I weren’t studying the book to try to learn some craft. In each instance, the change added more to the scene and shifted the reader either more into the scene (with second person) or showed us how Briony was almost outside of her body, watching herself and analyzing her reactions, thoughts, feelings (or lack thereof, in her case).
The twists and turns at the end were well-done, where everything tied together in an unpredictable way. After finishing the book, I enjoyed retracing my steps and reconsidering different events to get every detail to click into place. There were delicious parallels that took some extra thought to reveal, and the author gave us just enough to be able to start down the right [brain] track (reference to the book).
A quote I loved for obvious reasons:
When we were small, Rose and I used to play a game called connect the dots. I loved it. I loved drawing a line from dot number 1 to dot number 2 and so on. Most of all, I loved the moment when the chaotic sprinkle of dots resolved itself into a picture.
That’s what stories do. They connect the random dots of life into a picture. But it’s all an illusion. Just try to connect the dots of life. You’ll end up with a lunatic scribble.
As a side note, Franny is the children’s manager at the wonderful 57th Street Books where you can go stacks-spelunking since it is underground. If you’re ever in Hyde Park, Chicago, I highly recommend stopping by and asking for her recommendations.