Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsley and a ghost story

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Copyright 2011
Dial Books - YA/Fantasy
358 pages

I was uncertain quite how to classify Chime; however, The Enchanted Inkpot (where you can read an excellent interview with author Franny Billingsley) describes it as a fantasy novel. When I read that, I thought, "Oh. Of course it is." I guess it's the word "witch" that made me think "paranormal", but fantastical world-building is definitely the essence of fantasy, isn't it? Chime takes place in a little village called Swampsea in 1920s (in Great Britain).

The sky was the color of porridge. The wind slapped at the ancient trees. It slapped at me too, but I slapped back and pushed ahead. I mustn't miss my opportunity. The Boggy Mun shows himself just as the evening mist rises, and he keeps strict business hours.

--p. 89 of Chime, Advance Reader Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Briony is a witch and she hates herself for the wicked things she has done. When she becomes angry, terrible things happen. It was Briony's jealousy that led to her sister's injury, an injury that has made her not quite right in the head. Briony has no choice but to stay in Swampsea to care for Rose, now that Stepmother has died. Stepmother, herself, was injured when Briony's anger called Mucky Face up from the swamp.

Eldric has come to stay at the parsonage with Briony, Rose and their father. A kind-hearted but impish young man of 22, Eldric is immediately attracted to Briony and the feeling is mutual. But another young man, Cecil, has a claim on Briony -- or, so he says -- and when the dark and beautiful Leanne arrives, she puts Eldric under her spell.

When the Boggy Mun sends the swamp cough to the village out of anger over the draining of the swamp and Rose comes down with the deadly cough, only Briony can save her sister. But, at what cost? If Briony confesses the reason she knows about the swamp cough, she'll be hanged as a witch. Will Briony confess to her crimes and hang to save Rose? Or, can she bargain with the Boggy Mun? Will Leanne win the heart of the only person who can make Briony smile? And, what really caused Stepmother's death?

What I loved about Chime:

There is so very much to love about Chime that I'm worried this review will be senselessly gushy to the point of superfluity. It's a distinct possibility. I like the brief description I wrote about Chime on Monday, so I'm going to repeat it for posterity:

Chime is dark and atmospheric, beautifully written, massively creative and surprising. I love the way the author turns everything on its head at the end but manages to drop enough hints that the ending is believable.

In general, I don't like books that are dreadfully dark, although an atmospheric book is a different matter entirely. I'm always searching for a thread of hope in my reading and a book that drips with atmosphere doesn't necessarily have to lack moments of levity. For example:

Eldric laughed at himself, and I found myself laughing too. It had been ages since I'd heard my own laugh. It was rusty, but serviceable.

--p. 19

By page 19, although you're barely into the book, the dark setting already is so deeply resonant as to make Eldric and his father a breath of fresh air, Briony's moment of laughter a surprise and a hint of what may come.

[Vocabulary note for Care: I'm using the following definition of resonate when I say "deeply resonant": to be understood or receive a sympathetic response -- you know, as opposed to the one related to sound waves reverberating off the wall. I just figured you'd want to know. ;)]

Chime is very dark, but cleverly inserted flashes of light kept me going. And, as it turns out . . . Briony doesn't know herself well at all.

I found the book practically flawless in tone, characterization, plot and pacing. The writing is evocative, the setting unique (at least, I haven't read anything similar) and immersive, the dialogue witty.

"If Petey were a color," I said, "he'd be puce."
"Yes, of course!" said Eldric. "What if he were an animal?"
"Historical personage?"
"Robespierre and the reign of terror," said Eldric. "Fancy that--I remember Robespierre. Some of the bloodier bits of my lessons must have stuck. Is Petey engaged in a reign of terror?"
"The word reign is a bit resplendent for Petey," I said.

--p. 109

What I disliked about Chime:

Oh, dear. I can't think of a thing, so let me backtrack a bit. I attempted to read Chime before I left for Charleston. I thought the first 12 (or so) pages were relentlessly negative -- Briony's inner monologue about her wickedness, Rose's complaining (followed by an interval of high-pitched screaming), Briony's reflections on death, disaster and her father's emotional distance. I considered not giving the book a second chance, but then I decided a dozen pages does not an acceptable attempt make.

Thank goodness for second chances. Chime is definitely going on my list of favorites for the year. In fact, I loved it so much I'm tempted to reread it immediately, but I'll just share another quote and force myself to find a spot on the good shelves.

Wolfgirl and lion-boy loped past tangles of blueberry bushes. The moon followed us into the Slough. We snickled through ferns and scrub and moon shavings and root tangles and logs frilled with overlapping mushrooms.

We leapt into snickleways, waded through velvet ooze. We dripped out the far side, trailing smells of sulfur and rotten eggs.

We laughed at the sulfur. We laughed at the rotten eggs. We laughed at the drifts of moon-peel. We laughed.

--p. 184

Cover thoughts:

I love the cover of the book for it's beauty and mystery, although it doesn't look very 1920s to me. I can't say quite why. Maybe because I think "long, dangly necklaces" rather than chokers when I think 1920s?

The bottom line:

If you like a masterfully written, highly creative, witty, dark fantasy with rays of light peering through its tangled branches, Chime is the book for you. I just can't praise it highly enough. Especially recommended to those who are looking for an atmospheric read. Definitely a perfect choice for the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge pile.

Speaking of atmosphere:

Want to see something really creepy? Wait, let me tell you the story, first. Whilst in Charleston, my two buddies and I took a "Ghost and Cemetery Tour," a tour of haunted places in Charleston. One of the places we stopped is an alley in which duels took place. Our guide told us that unlike what we typically see in the movies, duels took place in an alley to prevent injuries to innocent bystanders when bullets went astray. In this very alley, a doctor was killed by a rival after the doctor passed up the opportunity to fire at his opponent and shot his gun to the sky.

I took a series of photos of the alley, the night of our tour. Because it was very dark, I knew there would likely be a good bit of camera movement and my best shot at getting a single decent frame involved taking a number of photos and hoping one of them would turn out. In each of the photos, there is a blue light in the lower right-hand side of the photos. What's creepy? The light moved. It started out in front of the stones bordering the small garden on the right and then moved up and forward (and then back down), toward the innocent photographer. WooooOoooo. Creepy. Here's one of those photos:

Can you see the blue light? It's a bit difficult to spot in reduced size [Update: I just attempted to enlarge the photo by clicking on it and it worked, so give that a try if you can't spot the light!]. It's directly down from the bottom of the closest tree. Nothing grabbed or shoved me and I felt no chill. Trick of the light? You tell me.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Oooooo! Your gushing has convinced me. I'll try the book. The cover is Lovely. And that picture...creepy!!!

  2. Jenny,

    I hope you love Chime as much as I did! It took me a while to get into it, but the writing is just amazing.

    Isn't the light creepy? I've tried to rationally explain it away but haven't come up with a reasonable explanation.

  3. Atmospheric books are my bread and butter these days, so this one sounds like something that I must pick up. I am also a fan of fantasy/paranormal books these days, which is new for me. It sounds like there is a lot to love about this book, and your enthusiastic review really makes me excited to try this one. Thanks for being so detailed and perceptive in this review! On the wish list it goes!

  4. Wow! Can't pass this one by, can I? Definitely going on the list. And the photo--eery, with or without the blue lights. I'd have been scooting out of there when the lights moved!

  5. Anonymous9:06 AM

    The book sounds really good. I am definitely going to participate in the RIP Challenge this year, even though I don't do challenges. LOL

    Yes, I see the blue light. I've never taken a "haunted" tour, but I would imagine Charleston would have enough ghosts for anyone.

  6. I don't normally read books like this, but you've made this one sound so good!

  7. Zibilee,

    I seem to be enjoying really atmospheric books, lately, too. Strangers by Taichi Yamada (hope I got his name right) is another one that I enjoyed -- not fantasy, but Asian paranormal. While I wouldn't say fantasy is likely to become my favorite, I thought the experience of reading Chime was simply breathtaking. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


    I actually thought of you, as I was writing my review. You and Chris in New Orleans are the two people I most strongly feel would enjoy this. Probably Kailana, too. As to the lights - only the camera caught them. I didn't see them when I was snapping the photos. They probably would have convinced me to run screaming out of the alley if I had!


    The RIP Challenge is my favorite because of the way it gently ushers in fall. When it begins, we're always still boiling hot. By the time it's over, the first "cold" front has arrived ("cold" not being all that cold in the Deep South, but definitely a relief).

    The Charleston ghost tour was my first, even though ghost tours are done locally. I'm a little leery about the areas where our local ghost tours go, even in the daytime, so I've avoided them. I just finished reading a book (Charleston Mysteries) that lists a number of ghostly stops on a walking tour. Yep, Charleston has its fair share of hauntings!


    It's not my typical fare, either. I think it must have been the cover the lured me to request a copy of Chime and I'm certainly glad it did. It is such an experience. You have to be able to tolerate that dark, negative vibe but it completely pays off in the end.

  8. SqueeeeEEEEEE! I see the blue light!

  9. Care,

    It was coming to GET you!!!! LOL

  10. that picture is SUPER cool!! I love stuff like that. How cool that the little ghost man showed up in your shots!

    As for the book..yeah, you've sold me on this one. I added it to my wishlist already after you suggested it but now I really really want to get my hands on it!!

  11. Chris,

    Isn't that something? I zoomed in and there's no form to the lights, at least not that I can see. But, still . . . moving blue light is spooky enough for me!

    If you don't like Chime, I shall eat my hat.

  12. Hey! I am here reading the review and my library has this book, so I just requested it. :)

  13. Kelly,

    Super! I hope you love it!

  14. haha. I guess the photo is more horrifying and dark rather than the book.:) Seems like Chime is a must read, eh. Hope I have enough budget to buy that book. :)

    Thanks for sharing,
    Cathy@digitizing service


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!