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YA, Fantasy, 361 pages, Dial
- Series: stand-alone
- Pub date: March 17th 2011
- Why I read it: unreliable narrator, swamp wolves, historical fantasy
- Disclosure: Checked out a copy from my local library.
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.The Long...
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.
Franny Billingsley knows what she's doing. Exhibit A: I guessed every twist Chime had to offer pages and pages before the big reveal, which is normally a deal-breaker, but in Chime was a deal-maker. Exhibit B: protagonist Briony, consumed by self-hatred, doubt, and guilt, should have by rights been insufferable, but was instead the most distinctive and enjoyable protagonist I read all year. Exhibit C: I couldn't put it down. At all. Ever.
Put it this way: I don't tie just any book with Daughter of Smoke and Bone for my Best Fantasy of 2011, folks.
With the rise of steampunk, especially Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy (continued in Behemoth and Goliath), I'm seeing more alternative history than I ever have before. Still, the "alternative" part usually has more of a sci-fi bent than did Chime, with its hanging of witches that turn to dust if they're real (and stay a corpse if they were just human after all) and the Boggy Mun taken as everyday life. Briony's love of the swamp (and her wolves) was the closest I've felt to Gemma Doyle and her Realms in Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty since...well, A Great and Terrible Beauty.
Speaking of Libba Bray, it all just drives home how sad this year's National Book Awards debacle was, since Chime has certainly received a large portion of the fallout after Lauren Myracle's exclusion with Shine. Both Chime and Shine are terrifically deserving books, and terrifically different.
In the end, what makes Chime so memorable is its mood: utterly different from the steaminess, grittiness, seediness, and danger that have dominated so much of YA this year. Chime can be shocking and terrifying, certainly, but it does it in such a childlike way you hardly believe you're reading a novel and not a fairytale you grew up with. It seeps in and becomes a part of you, and isn't that all we ask of our books, anyway?
...and the Short:
A charming, complex fairytale with protagonist and world you'll never forget.
The Final Word: Loved it!