Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Chimes The Chimes
by Anna Smaill

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: John Toon

The Chimes is a post-apocalyptic novel, but the nature of its apocalypse is rather unusual. A gigantic sonic weapon buried beneath London has not only ruined the city but also disrupted people's ability to remember; now an instrument of governmental control, it sounds every day (the titular Chimes), effectively resetting the citizenry's minds and holding them in a never-changing present. Simon is the son of a member of a guild dedicated to preserving memories of the past, and when his mother dies he is sent to London to make contact with other members of this network. But Simon misses his connection and ends up on the streets, amnesiac and scavenging for metal for the governing Order. Lucien, another scavenger with a natural resistance to the effect of the Chimes, helps to set Simon back on the hero's quest he should have been on from the start.

An odd result of this book's apocalypse, with its sonic weapon doubling as a sort of musical instrument, is that music has replaced the written word in the characters' everyday lives. Letters no longer make sense to them, and they emphasise their speech and body language with solfège hand signals (a visual system for representing musical notes; anyone who's seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind will have seen this in action). They use tunes to describe routes to each other or to call out their wares in the market, and Anna Smaill's prose is peppered throughout with musical terminology. Luckily for me and the book, I'm familiar with this stuff, but I expect it will throw a lot of readers. Smaill's tone is also quite literary, and she's not averse to inventing new words to describe her musical world (my personal favourite: "blasphony"), so again, this is the right book for me (or I'm the right reviewer for this book), but others may be put off.

The story does take a hell of a long time to get going – admittedly, with Simon sidetracked from his mission, that's probably intended, but it did take me a little while to plough through to the end. I didn't find reading The Chimes a chore, but equally I didn't have any problem with putting it down at regular intervals. This is a good fantasy novel from a NZ writer, and more, an astonishingly confident debut – and if the prominent displays in all the local bookshops are any indication, the publishers are confident about it too – but I wouldn't claim that it's The Book That Everyone Must Read Right Now. Well worth a look, but requires patience on the reader's part.

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