Friday, September 9, 2016

The Old Ones of Swampsea

Ok...let's see if my mushy brain can pull off a rambling today.  I was gonna wait for when I was more coherant to write this post, but I actually think the inside out state of my head will actually help in writing about this dream of a book.  Wait...I haven't told you what we are rambling about today?  Whoops...sorry about that.  The book is Chime by Franny Billingsley.  The book had been recommended by one of my favorite book blogs and I was super excited to read it.  I'm gonna tell you right now I was not disappointed.  Let's get to it shall we?  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Briony Larkin is guilty.  Of what she is guilty of we are not 100% sure, but she is guilty.  We know that she is guilty because she tells us she is.  Briony is on trial for her life, and she just wants it all over all ready. Briony is evaluated by a being called the Chime Child, a person who was born at the minute between midnight.  The Chime Child can see and talk with the Old Ones, but is a human so the feeling is they are best suited to judge whether a person is human or Old One.  Here is Briony's confession.  Briony Larkin, her twin sister Rose and their preacher father all live in the tiny town of Swampsea which borders a broad swamp somewhere in an alternate England.  Briony has been hiding a secret for most of her life.  Briony is a witch, she knows she is a witch because her beloved Stepmother told her she was.  Stepmother however is not of a normal fairy tale variety and she helps Briony keep her powers a secret.  Briony's witchcraft is first revealed when she and Rose were playing on the swings as very young girls and after a bout of jealousy produces a wind that knocks Rose off the swing, causing her to hit her head. Rose is forever strange from that point forward. Stepmother tells Briony that it was her witchcraft that did the deed and that she must learn to control it.  Briony grows up torn between fearing her power and loving the things it allows her to see.  In this world of Swampsea the swamp is full of what are known as the Old Ones.  Old Ones are things like brownies, faries, and other familiar creatures, along with some specific ones such as Dark Muses which feed of male creativity until they are a husk, or the Dead Hand which clamps on your hand and pulls it off.  Briony used to write stories about all of these creatures until one day her power got out of her control and a huge wave swamped her house, breaking Stepmothers back.  Briony after an illness of her own stays home instead of going to school to care for her strange sister and broken Stepmother.  Eventually Stepmother kills herself with arsenic rather then live broken.  Briony has vague memories of this time but she knows two things, one that Stepmother was a kind and wonderful woman who would never kill herself and two she is a witch.  One day, the son of a new arrival to Swampsea comes to live with the Larkin family.  Eldric is a special guy who seems to be able to draw Briony out of her self hatred, allowing her to remember how free she was before her fear of her powers and guilt over her sister and Stepmother overwhelmed her need to talk with the Old Ones and run free in the swamp.  A sickness known as the swamp cough has come to the village and is almost always fatal.  Regardless of her attempts to stay away, Briony is contacted by the Old Ones and learns that the Boggy Man has sent the cough as retaliation for the planned draining of the swamp to allow the railroad to go through.  Eldric continues to help Briony come out of her walled self and eventually she tells him the truth of what she is.  Eldric is much more sympathetic then she thought he would be, and he insists that she is not evil and feels there is more to the story.  Rose continues her cryptic ways and we are starting to feel like Eldric that there is much more to the story.  Briony tries various ways to stop the draining of the swamp all while trying to deal with her feelings for Eldric, her duty to her sister and her guilt of previous events.  It all comes to a head one night when Briony collects the ghosts of the children who have been killed by the swamp cough and convinces the town to stop draining the swamp.  This of course reveals her to be a witch.  We then go to the trial in which this book started.  Rose finally is able to get through what she was trying to say through out the whole book.  We finally find out that Briony is not a witch but a Chime Child and that Stepmother was a Dark Muse who fed off of their father.  Once he realized what she was he stayed away hoping to starve her.  The Dark Muse/Stepmother found a way to feed off of Briony's writings about the Old Ones.  Briony finally realized what was going on and slipped arsenic into Stepmothers food, killing her to save her family.  Briony is absolved of witchcraft as she is a Chime Child, and cleared of murder as a parasitic Old One is not a human.  She, Rose and Eldric find a way to live happily with her father in Swampsea.  Briony realizes that eventually the swamp will be drained so she starts writing her stories again to preserve the lives of the Old Ones.
World Building - The book is set in an alternate England village at the beginning of the Industrial Age.  The world is expertly built with the atmosphere being it's own character.  I felt like I could wander the village of Swampsea and feel the damp swamp air and roam the boggy marshes.  It was phenomenal how completely immersed in this world I got, the author did an amazing job writing a complete world.  I think what helped the most was how ingrained into the actual story the world was so that we were constantly learning about our little area, how it looked, felt, smelled, who lived in it, how they lived and all that great world building stuff with out a bunch of heavy exposition.  Anytime I feel like I can actually enter a book world makes me super happy, a zillion points for world building.

Story - The story was both straight forward and convoluted all at the same time...kind of like my brain right now.  The story itself took a bit of back seat to the intense character of Briony and the overwhelmingly awesome atmosphere of the book.  There was definitely a story and over all it was followable, but it was so entwined with every thing else that sometimes you had to try and remember where and when you were at in the story...but in a book like this I feel that may be part of the appeal.  Some people will love it, some will hate it...I loved it.

Characters - This book is with out a doubt all about Briony.  She is the sole narrator in a first person voice and everything is seen and heard through her foggy memories, self loathing and stubborn and tenacious nature.  This is ok 'cause like I's her book.  That being said the characters were all fairly well done.  I found Eldric to be a mix of awesome and a bit to good to be true with just a touch of over the top emo...but I also feel he had to be all that to match Briony's overwhelming personality yeah.  I think Rose was my favorite, with her crypcticness and odd, yet persice way of being.  I'm not sure if she was supposed to be autistic, or just "touched" as they used to say, but I thought the character was well written.

Editing - So...hmmm...This book was a mix of writing styles that were both prose and lyrical...I will expound on that in a minute.  Where this pertains to this category is if it is still readable.  I felt that it was fairly well edited. The story flowed, everything was readable.  If I had any real quibbles in this book it might be that we kept going back to the "incident's" with out adding any extra info or insight.  I think we could have gone back a bit less and had a bit more of a streamlined book.  That being said the editing was over all pretty good.

Writing Style - As I just mentioned, this book was a pretty unique mix of straight logical prose and very dream like lyrical.  I have heard mixed reviews for this style, but for myself I felt that it worked.  I think I liked it because it showed the state of Briony's head.  Briony could be cold, logical and able to do what needed to be done.  She could also be dreamy, muddled and spent a lot of time living in another world.  The mix of the two styles were still consistent in that they both sounded like Briony, they both used her voice and that made for a well blended story.  I found the transitions smooth and the combination of the two styles very quickly merged into a pattern that was perfect for the tone of this book.

The Old Ones - I love love love a good fairy tale, and this book was a great twist on that style.  The Old Ones in this book were a mix of familiar and new ones specific for this story.  The author used the Old Ones to both further the story and add to the world building and atmosphere.  They were well explained and well integrated into this little village by the swamp and I loved it.  Reading this book made me want to go look up all sorts of local legends and brush up on all the various fair folk hanging around the various areas...and that my friends is a sign of a good book.  I also loved how well suited the Old Ones were for the environment that the author dreamed up.  No float elf types here, they were all earthy, swampy types, some were dark, some were innocent, some were wise and some were bad.  Loved it.

Mood Match - One of the reasons I may have enjoyed this book so much is that it was the perfect book for the mood I was in when I read it.  I was in a weird transitional mood and this book is a weird atmospheric book.  It does make me wonder if I would still feel the same about it if I read it during a different mind phase...but I don't really care.  I love it when my mood and book pairings work out so well!

Overall Impression - I have a hard time articulating what I liked about this book.  It was atmospheric, it was convoluted, it was dream like, it was a bit eye rolling, it was different, it was the perfect book for the mood I was in when I read it. I have read a lot of reviews on it and people seem divided between loving it for it's weirdness and well being weirded out by it.  I loved it, I will probably read it again and I recommend it for anybody who likes fairy tales, atmosphere and a different style of book.  I give it 8 out of 10 Mucky Faces.
Happy Reading Everybody!

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