Review of CHIME by Franny Billingsley
Dial, March 2011
Briony mourns the death of her stepmother--supposedly a suicide but Briony knows she would never have killed herself. The arsenic poisoning had to have been murder. She tries to get on with her life, though, taking care of her sister as she promised her stepmother she would, staying away from the swamp and its magic because she promised her stepmother she would, and waiting for the townspeople to discover that she, Briony, is a witch-and witches are hung. The arrival of Eldric complicates things. Eldric wants to be her friend... but perhaps he also wants something more. Except he also seems enthralled by the sexy and earthy Leanne. Then again, everyone knows that witches can't love, so that shouldn't be a problem for her.
When her sister is wracked by a persistent cough, Birony returns to the swamp, hoping to bargain for her sister's health. Her plan backfires, however. The Boggy Man is angry that his swamp is being drained and he's sending the swamp cough into the village. When he hears Briony's concern, insead of reassuring her, he reaches out and gives the disease to her sister, Rose. Only by stopping the pumping, letting the water return, will he relent and release Rose and the others from the certain death of the disease. But Briony can only persuade the village to stop the pumping by revealing the truth--that she is a witch.
Author Franny Billingsley writes a beautiful story. Briony is a complex character--wracked by guilt, trying to do what is right without self-sacrifice, falling for Eldric but trying not to press too hard or too fast. Billingsley's story is often dark, with both physical and psychological danger from the swamp, from Briony's fellow village-dwellers and from magical beings from outside The mostly sweet romance between Briony and Eldric, sister Rose's strange way with words and stranger attempts to send a message to Briony that she simply cannot get (she makes Briony cover her ears when the clock strikes midnight for example) sometimes lighten this tone and sometimes give CHIME even more depth.
CHIME is being marketed as a young adult fantasy/romance and should appeal to female teens. As a post-teen male, it took me a while to get into this story. Once I did, however, I got hooked on Billingsley's world-building, her tough-but-vulnerable protagonist, the annoying but endearing Rose, and most especially Briony's desperate attempts to keep her sanity in a world where nothing was exactly as it appeared and where danger can take the most unusual forms.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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