Chicago writer Franny Billingsley’s latest novel Chime is not what you think. Forget everything you know about witchcraft, England, and the early 20th century.
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Briony Larkin lives in a village in southern England in the early 1900’s with her father and twin sister, Rose. Briony is not like the other 18-year-olds in her village: She is a witch. She can’t tell anyone her secret or she’ll be hanged. The only person who knew was her beloved stepmother, who died after Briony accidentally conjured up an evil spirit. Briony is filled with self hatred, blaming herself not only for her stepmother’s death but for Rose’s childhood accident that left her unable to care for herself. When many of the village’s children are affected with swamp cough, Briony knows they will not live unless she appeases yet another spirit, upset over plans to drain the nearby swamp in which many of the spirits make their home. But if she wants to stop the draining of the swamp and save not only the younger children of the village but her own sister, who comes down with the swamp cough after a failed attempt to appease the spirits, she must reveal that she is a witch and be hanged for it. Her dilemma is further complicated by the arrival of the mysterious Eldric and her inability to comprehend why she gets angry when the beautiful Leanne flirts with him.
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Briony has more in common with other teenage girls than she realizes. She suffers from an understandable but exhausting self-hatred, knowing that she is responsible for the accidents that harmed her stepmother and sister. She believes that sharing her secret could kill her, but keeping it could turn out even worse. Briony can talk to the dead and conjur up evil spirits, but ultimately, her struggles with self confidence and jealousy are not that different from those of today’s youths.
Unlike most fantasy romances, in which either the fantasy or the romance portion takes center stage, Chime effortlessly balances both, along with a number of other threads and themes. It is beautifully written but may be difficult for its target audience to plow through Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself daunted by the 1900’s prose and various names of spirits and witches; do your best to enjoy the story itself. Hattiesburg residents can pick up a copy at the Oak Grove Public Library on Old Highway 11 or the Hattiesburg Public Library on Hardy Street.
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