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Chime    by Franny Billingsley order for
by Franny Billingsley
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though on the surface she looks like a porcelain Dresden shepherdess, seventeen-year-old Briony Larkin exists in a hard reality - she knows she is a witch, responsible for both her twin sister Rose's disability (after a fall from a swing caused brain damage) and her beloved stepmother's death. But in the village where she and Rose live with their clergyman father, by the Swampsea marsh, witches are hung (after being judged by the Chime Child). Briony, who sees and communicates with Old Ones, lives with guilt and fear.

Then handsome bad boy Eldric Clayborne enters her life, with his 'golden lion's eyes and a great mane of tawny hair.' Eldric's father is responsible for draining the swamp, ordered by the queen to improve life in the Swampsea. Eldric gradually wins Briony over with caring, humor, and excursions into the swamp - he finds her 'quick and elegant, loyal and fierce' and they form a club. In the graveyard, young ghosts tell Briony that the Boggy Mun, angered by the draining of the bog, caused the swamp cough that killed them. When she tries to negotiate with him, he infects Rose as well. Briony knows she should tell the villagers what is killing their children, but then they will hang her as a witch - what can she do?

It all comes to a head when a Dark Muse threatens someone Briony cares for. Soon her secret is revealed and her life endangered. But she still has friends, who are ready to tell the truth, past and present. Though the story meanders all over the marsh in a leisurely development, it's an intriguing one, filled with magic, romance, and lyrical passages, like the final paragraph that explains 'Word magic ... How can something as fragile as a word build a whole world?'

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