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Here I am to add my voice to the choir singing the praises of Chime by Franny Billingsley.  How many starred reviews did it get?  Six, I think.  And still I thought, I will wait for the library to get a copy.  I have been burned too many times recently.  Even after beth_shulman read it and said it was amazing, I remained stubborn.  We have extremely similar taste in books so I should have folded then. Kate Coombs told me to buy the book because I was going to buy it anyway after reading it.  Did I listen?  No.  And by the way, she was right.  Sigh.  I could have read this weeks ago.  Ah well, I've read it now. And what a book it is.
Note: DO NOT JUDGE THIS BOOK BY ITS COVER.  Why did they do that?????

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've confessed everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please. I don't mean to be difficult, but I can't bear to tell my story. I can't relive those memories-the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp. How can you possibly think me innocent? Don't let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart."

Well, hello there one of the best openings to a book ever.  I think I am going to love you.  This was my first thought.  And it was true.  Why did I like it so much? This book made me feel.  Reading it was not an intellectual exercise., although it is a very smart book. It did not cause disdain or amusement in me like so many books I have read lately.  I was puzzled, anxious, excited, nervous, frustrated, enchanted, and angry.  All this on behalf of Briony.  And sometimes those emotions were directed at Briony. The mystery and confusion that envelope Briony's mind are not difficult for the reader to riddle out. I wanted to scream at Briony, "THINK!  THINK! Get there faster!" But that's okay because the book is not about the reader getting at the truth, it is about Briony getting there.  This is her  journey and she has to muddle through not only the Swampsea around her house, but the swamp land her mind has become.

And this is where the book's format comes into play.  The story is told by Briony mostly in first person, sometimes in second, sometimes in third.  It mirrors the muddle that is Briony's mind. Her voice is not the only one she hears. The narrative style was a brilliant device to convey how confused and unreliable she is. 

I loved the setting of the Swampsea.  It was a very interesting place with so many supernatural elements, and while some of them are horrific, many are also beautiful.  With all the books out there that focus on enchanted forests, an enchanted swamp was an inspired concept.  The wider setting is England, but it is an England in an alternate history. (Although you wouldn't notice that if you didn't really know your British history.) As a reader, you are dropped into the world with no explanation and no lifeline and left to muddle through the swamp and Briony's life as best you can.  I love this.

And then there is Eldric.  The relationship between him and Briony develops the way I like to see.  There were no lightning bolts of instant attraction and obsession.  The evolution of their relationship was very believable and fraught with the type of pitfalls, difficulties and frustrations that anyone could identify with.  Eldric himself is an interesting character and the reader learns about him just as Briony does, through a slow discovery.  By the end....Let's just say I very much like Eldric.

I will now need to find Franny Billingsley's other books.  Quickly.


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