The opening lines drew me right in: "I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please." Briony Larkin hates herself thoroughly and yet I found her immediately endearing. This book is a must for readers who are suckers for a strong and original narrative voice, like I am. Briony is brilliantly witty and her actions - like the way she cares for her twin sister Rose - make it clear that she isn't a bad person at all. To heal her psychological wounds, Larkin must face the pain and unravel the mystery of her past.
The fantasy setting is Swampsea, a remote part of late-19th-century United Kingdom in the vicinity of a seaside swamp inhabited by various Old Ones like the Boggy Mun, Mucky Face, the Reed Spirits and the Dead Hand. The Old Ones cannot survive proximity to metal and industry, so everything is on the brink of change when Mr. Clayborne comes to town to drain the swamp and build a railway through it.
Along with Mr. Clayborne comes his bad-boy son, Eldric, who has been expelled from school. Briony believes herself both unloveable and unable to love, but Eldric is determined to change that. If you follow my blog, you'll know that I barely tolerate romance. Chime is a blend of fantasy, mystery and romance. I loved every powerful bit of it, including the romance. I even wept at the end.
Readalikes: For edgy romance and dangerous magic, Tithe by Holly Black. For an erie swamp setting and complex plot, Useful Idiots by Jan Mark. For a similarly strong narrative voice and romance (but no magic) The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. The closest match I can think of is Franny Billingsley's fabulous earlier novel, The Folk Keeper.