Received from the Publisher
From the BLURB:
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.
Briony Larkin is a witch, her Stepmother said so. Briony was a wolfgirl who let her jealousies bubble with the swamp; she set fire to the library and bought floods into the home. Briony was a wicked witch child, but it was her twin sister Rose who paid for her crimes.
But now Briony’s Stepmother is dead, and her clergyman father has opened the house to a man-boy University tenant. Eldric comes from London and suddenly Briony isn’t so certain of her witchy-ways. Because Eldric uncovers the truth, and changes Briony’s life forever.
‘Chime’ is the latest children’s fantasy novel from Franny Billingsley.
The book opens with the chilling words from self-proclaimed witch, Briony Larkin;
I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.Now, if you please.
But before her neck snaps, Briony wishes to tell her story. On the cusp of the twentieth century, in the small English town of Swampsea, Briony tells of the rampaging swamp cough that chokes the villagers. She explains about the Chime Child who searches for witches (red hair is a dead give-away), and the belief she has in her bewitching self.
Briony is quite the enigma. She is self-deprecating to a disturbing degree; constantly proclaiming guilt at the crimes for which she is at the end of the hangman’s noose. But she cares for her twin sister. Rose is described as ‘peculiar’ – she is concerned with colour, does not like strangers and will scream in B-flat when she is displeased. Briony keeps a weathered eye on Rose and her peculiarities – but inwardly Briony despises her care-taker role, and dreams of running away to France or Greece to get away from Rose and the unending guilt of her sister;
The unnatural wind is a perfect memory to stuff into your mind. It will make you remember you hurt Rose. It will make you remember the swings, the froth of petticoats, Rose’s screams – those knitting-needle screams, which even when Rose was only seven, sounded just as they do today.You must remember so you can hate yourself. It’s been ten years, but you mustn’t let yourself forget what you owe Rose.
Franny Billingsley has written a twisted fairytale worthy of Tim Burton. This novel is a fantasy feast worthy of big-screen adaptation. ‘Chime’ may be a young adult book, but Billingsley’s sophisticated writing and iridescent imagery mean that more than just young readers will enjoy diving into Briony’s witchy tale.
“Witchcraft be a sin,” said the Chime Child, “but hanging an innocent, that be a sin too.”
‘Chime’ is no fairy-floss read, to be sure. Billingsley’s novel is full of lyricism and melt-in-your-mouth sentences, coiled around a suspicious plot and narrated by a self-hating protagonist who is reluctantly determined to spit out her story. While the opening-chapter is curious enough to warrant further reading, the following chapters seem hazy and the plot does not immediately present itself. Persevere – let yourself be carried along by Billingsley’s nuanced writing and Briony’s begrudging storytelling.
At one point, Briony ironically confesses to hating poetry:
A poem doesn’t come out and tell you what it has to say. It circles back on itself, eating its own tail and making you guess what it means.
Ironic, because this is precisely what Briony does. She leaves ends dangling, and frays her story. She makes mention of an accident which left her as Rose’s caretaker, and incidents connected to the Swampsea swamps that left no doubt in her mind that she is indeed a witch. This spiralling storytelling may frustrate some readers, but others will appreciate Billingsley’s lyrical journey and the unfurling dénouement.
‘Chime’ reads like a Guillermo del Toro film. Franny Billingsley has set fantastical characters against the muddy backdrop of an English swamp town. Our protagonist is a self-proclaimed witch, eager to see herself hung, but reluctant to tell her story before the short drop and sudden stop. This is a decadent young adult fairytale, to be consumed with patience and the unwavering trust in the author to tell her story in a round-about, beautiful way.