Monday 9 February 2015


Book review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

My edition: Hardcover, to be published on 12 February 2015 by Sceptre, 304 pages.

Description: A boy stands on the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain.

No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment.

No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden.

No parents - just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them.

The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air.

Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony.

But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, and sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon's past.


It has been a very long time since I anticipated a novel quite as much as The Chimes by Anna Smaill. Having heard unanimous gushing reviews since the first proof copies made their way out into the world at the end of the last year, I may have actually squealed in excitement when the stunning cover first appeared on bookbridgr and I was able to request my very own copy. And when it arrived in the post only a few days later, it made its way straight to the top of my to-read pile, I was *that* impatient to dig into it. But did it live up to my expectations?

The Chimes is set in a London that seems simultaneously set in the past – there is no electricity and technology too is far behind what we're used to nowadays – and in the future, as the world is hugely imaginative and slightly futuristic at times. This parallel London is different from our own most evidently in that people communicate through music and the only way most of its citizens are able to remember more than a few days back is by body memory; repetitive movements.

Unable to retain their long-term memories the people don't know what exactly happened years earlier, before the Allbreaking, but at least they have the daily repeat of Onestory through the Carillon to remind them of their history – the one according to the Order, at least. Their collective amnesia makes them ignorant to what is really going on around them, but in their naivety at least they are content.

Protagonist Simon is an ignorant farm boy like so many, until his mother passes away and he travels to London to fulfill her last request. He soon becomes entangled in a pack of runners that search for nuggets of palladium around the river, which they use to trade at the markets. Their leader, Lucien, believes Simon is different from everyone else and he is proven right when against all odds Simon starts being able to keep his memories, and even recall some from when he was much younger.

At a time where dystopian fiction is at the height of its popularity, The Chimes may technically fall within this genre but it was remarkably original and different. The musical way of communication created a beautiful backdrop to what was an otherwise horrifying example of a select few controlling the masses. And even to someone, like myself, who isn't quite as consumed by music, the lyrical descriptions were rich and exciting, the sounds almost leaping off the pages while reading.

I did find it a struggle to get fully immersed in Simon's story because it was hard to grasp the direction of the plot between the symphonic storytelling. The world building was confusing, making it a challenge to feel invested in Simon's awakening. If I was someone who gave up on a book if the first 50 or 100 pages didn't live up to expectations, I wouldn't have finished this one. Thankfully in this case perseverance paid off, as it slowly unravelled from a melodic whisper into a fast-paced masterpiece – not unlike the classical compositions from the musical greats.

The Chimes is one of the most beautifully written, lyrical novels I've ever read. It's highly imaginative and evocative and unlike anything I've ever come across before, or likely will again. However, the story was needlessly complicated, its challenging start distracting from what could have been one of the best books I have ever read.

The melodious writing was compelling enough to keep me gripped on its own though and if you are looking for something different among the current wave of psychological thrillers, young adult dystopian reads and erotica novels commandeering the shelves in the shops, then this inventive book is a challenge worth tackling.

You can pre-order the novel from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:


Twitter: @annaesmaill

Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the novel via Bookbridgr in exchange for an honest review.

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