[Review] The Chimes - Anna Smaill

Title of Book:
The Chimes
Author: Anna Smaill
Publisher: Quercus
Publication Year: 2016
Language: English
Format: Hardback
Pages: 304

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. A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthrall and inspire.


The Chimes follows a boy named Simon, who was on his journey to London. He had no recollection of what happened before except that he’s supposed to find a woman in London. Upon arrival in London, instead of meeting said woman and figuring out what happened to him, he met a group of scavengers who look for valuable metals to sell. Simon then manage to join the group and met Lucien, who had a gift of hearing. Along with the group, Simon tried to survive the world he lived in while uncovering some secrets about his past.

Honestly, I found difficulties in summarizing what this book is about; because even after finishing the book, I’m not sure I truly grasp what happened in the book. My summary earlier probably do not accurately describe what really happened in the book (sorry!) but I’ll try to give my overall impression of the book and what I think of it.

First of all, The Chimes is set in a dystopian world where there is a chime (or chimes? A some kind of instrument) that would ring at certain times in a day and whenever people hear it, they will lose their memories. Written words are forbidden. People communicate using hand sign and through songs. I’m not sure if I describe it correctly because truthfully I still can’t imagine how the world works. I still don’t get how you communicate through songs because I think it’s not just about the lyrics but also the nuance that the song brings to express the feelings. It’s difficult to capture through written words, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I couldn’t connect well with the world setting of this book.

As you can probably tell by what I explained regarding the world setting, this book is heavily influenced by music. It revolves around music. As a matter of fact, the words the characters use to speak are some common terms in music such as presto, lento, piano (as in soft or gentle, not the instrument). There are also vocabularies that are changed, for example yesterday is called yesternoch. While I understand that these new vocabularies would help readers to feel more immersed in the book’s atmosphere, I find it a bit hard to comprehend. Sure, for people who at least learned basic music theory might understand what the words mean but there are also words that I believe are original to this book. Some might get confused and have to look up the meaning in the dictionary back and forth making sure that it’s not the made up word. All I’m saying is, it can get exhausting and English is not my first language. For me, I get tired of it halfway and decided not to care and guess through context. The result is I probably lost some plot points because of this.

I also feel that for most of the book the pacing is slow, too slow. I was halfway through the book and I still didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t get what kind of world the characters live in, what are the characters’ goals and motives. It’s so weird and at one point I thought I read this book for nothing. The main conflict appears near the ending and it feels rushed. For main conflict, it didn’t leave much impression on me. There’s no tension. I didn’t feel the urgency of it, it just passed by me.

Overall, I personally think the idea and the premise of this book is intriguing and original. However, the execution needs to be polished more. I think it has potential; or maybe this book is just not for me because I’ve seen some people enjoyed reading it. 

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