I moved this one to the top of my TBR pile after hearing that it was the #1 book that editors at BEA said they wished they'd published themselves this year. Since I think that speaks volumes about the novel, I dove in.
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.
Let me start off by saying that this novel is wholly unlike anything I've read before. It's a historical novel, set in the early twentieth century, so the speech and customs were a little foreign, but the writing was absolutely stunning. Take these lines for example:
"Wine and bread. This has always seemed rather ghoulish to me, as though one were smearing the threshold with Puree of Christ."
"She spoke in a dark-river sort of voice, as though her throat were filled with dusk."
"The sun was orange and setting fast. Its reflection oozed up and down the river in thick marmalade ripples."
And then there are the main characters. Briony has some quirks, more than a her fair-share of self-hatred, and a quick tongue. She's convinced she's a witch, and her belief in her own evil persists long after readers know it can't possibly be true. Briony's twin sister, Rosy, is basically certifiable, but in a totally believable way. The pair of them make such a delightfully new combination, you just want to keep reading on about them.
And then enters Eldric. Readers will love him from the start. He's intuitive, sensitive, and a bad-boy in all the best sorts of ways. He makes "fidgets," which are little trinkets out of old scrap he finds lying around. I think I'd absolutely melt if I was 18 and a 22 year old boy-man (as Briony calls him), fidgeted me a charm for my necklace. So sweet!
The book took me a little bit to get into from a sense of world-building. The characters drew me in instantly, but the paranormal elements were so new, that I wasn't always sure what was what. There are all sorts of creatures that live in Briony's swap -- the Boogy Man, the Dead Hand, Dark Muses, etc. -- and to ward them off, one has to carry a Bible Ball. So yeah, it took me a little while to grasp all of what was going on.
My only real critique of the book is that I wish it had moved a little faster toward the climax. The first half of the novel seemed to take awhile, and then I flew through the second half. It became one of those books that you just can't put down, I only wish that'd happened a bit sooner. Also, while I saw one of the ending revelations coming for the better part of the book, the more shocking revelation caught me completely off guard. I love being surprised like that!
So, overall, I give Chime 4 Greek coins -- an OMG! rating. This is NOT your typical paranormal romance novel and if you're looking to break out of the mold and try something new (heavy on the historical side), I definitely recommend you pick up this novel.