The Chimes by Anna Smaill

From TheBookbag
Jump to navigationJump to search

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Smaill Chimes.jpg
Buy The Chimes by Anna Smaill at or

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A world with no writing, ruled by a mysterious upper class and surrounded by music. A well-conceived, delicate fantasy that reveals a multi-layered fable as it progresses for those who want it and a ripping good tale for those who don't. Oh yes, this is definitely a 'Wow!' book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444794526

Share on: Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram

Winner: 2016 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel

Writing is outlawed and no one remembers how to read. In fact memory itself is at a premium; people carry their memories around with them in their hands or any way they're able as each day their minds empty of so much. The world now answers to the music of The Chimes summoning all to daily observance. The music is all. It lays aural paths for navigation, identifies people like a musical signature – the music is everywhere. The music is what brings young Simon to London after the death of his parents. How did they die? Why is Simon here? Why is Lucien, one of his fellow River Thames mud larks so significant? Would Simon really want to know?

New Zealander Anna Smaill is a published poet; a fact that would make anyone who has read The Chimes smile and nod. For although this, her fictional debut, is a very accessible fantasy tale rather than a book of poetry, there are poetic elements nestling there for those who want to see them.

Actually, that in a nutshell is the magic of The Chimes. This is a story that rivets us from the beginning but, for those wanting more, there are delicious depths that change an excellent story into an equally excellent thought provoking fable. As if that isn't enough, it also convinces us that Anna is a very clever lady.

Anna's narrative shadows the music-driven world ingeniously. (Tone deafs don't need to worry – I loved it, can't read a note of music and have a singing voice like water going down a plughole!) At first I thought Anna was dropping the odd Latin word in for kicks. Then the truth dawned; these are musical terms demonstrating the Chimes domination and music as language. It only happens every now and again, but we notice that, for instance, people may move lento (slowly) or things happen subito (suddenly). Ok so what's in it for people who weren't in my Latin class (I failed by the way) as well as having no interest in music?

To begin with we're totally intrigued by the story as we're drip fed a world and our guide Simon's experience of it. The reason for the intrigue and drip feeding is that we have a guide with a limited memory that reduces or redirects each day. This is a world governed by the Chimes (a giant instrument) which demands religious-esque adherence and in return it ensures that all that people remember are things that can be memory-jogged by random items.

We have the feeling of a post-apocalyptic society where the poor, like Simon, are forced to mud lark the Thames in search of scrap metal from somewhere to sell to someone. There used to be writing but now there is none. Why? 'Why' will be revealed as clues fall into place. Meanwhile 'why' is what leads us on and makes this book hugely compelling.

Simon and his blind companion Lucien (the lad who has something others haven't… Why?) lead us on an adventure and series of revelations that don't stop till the story does. Even in the aftermath of the literal crescendo, there's a huge surprise.

If you're like me, while you read you'll be hit by the lyrical tenderness that ripples through the edge-of-the-seat excitement and discovery. You may also wonder at the questions it raises about power, power brokers and the dangers of the unquestioning nature of organised religion (and I write that as a practising Christian and vicar's wife). If you're like me you'll also be blown away and, as the story finishes, your last thought will be 'Wow!'

(Thank you so much Sceptre for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you enjoy fantasy that comes fable-edged, we also recommend The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Don't let the teen label fool you; our Jill commented that it has something for everyone from 8 to 88 before giving it a 5*.

Booklists.jpg The Chimes by Anna Smaill is in the Top Ten Fantasy Books of 2015.

Please share on: Facebook Facebook, Follow us on Twitter Twitter and Follow us on Instagram Instagram

Buy The Chimes by Anna Smaill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Chimes by Anna Smaill at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Chimes by Anna Smaill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Chimes by Anna Smaill at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.