Young orphan, Simon Wythern, leaves the farm he grew up on and heads to London carrying only his memory bag. In his memory bag are the items which contain the memories that he wants to hold onto, all the bits of the life he’s led thus far. You see, in Simon’s world, the only memories people retain are those that they carry in their memory bag. If you lose your memory bag, you become one of the nameless, those wandering without purpose, where each day is a new day, without memories of the days that came before, and there is only bodymemory left to fall back on.
In this alternate London, written history has been destroyed and replaced by music. The whole city talks and thinks and carries on to the sound of The Chimes. Each day a carillon sounds the chimes and society has been taught to think and act based on the music of The Onestory which is sounded by the chimes. The music of the Onestory is composed by the elite members of The Order and it tells of The Allbreaking, where the past world was destroyed by a weapon built of dischord, which was then turned upon itself. The Order arose from the ashes of dischord to save the people from chaos and bring about a new world of harmony. Onestory is there to give their world meaning and help the people understand their place in it. All else outside of Onestory is considered Blasphony. But, for those who live outside The Citadel, The Chimes often bring Chime Sickness and eventually death.
Simon arrives in London with only a name and a song to find, a thread to follow. The thread is a woman named Netty, whom his mother referred to right before she died two days ago of the chime sickness. But when he finds Netty, she seems to have no idea who his mother was and Simon doesn’t really know why he seeks her to begin with.
Time passes and Simon finds himself living in a storehouse on Dog Isle. He has become a member of the Five Rover pact. The pact consists of other young homeless kids, pactrunners, who eke out their living by hunting for remnants of The Pale Lady, a silver palladium ore, which The Order holds dear. All of the other members of Simon’s pact have no memory bags and they live on bodymemory alone. Bodymemory keeps them in their places.
But Simon begins to notice that he is different and seems to have a gift. The Chimes don’t bring the usual sickness to him, and he is able to hold on to some of his memories. He also forms a relationship with the pact’s leader Lucien, who has a secret past and seems untouched by The Chimes. The two become part of a secret network of people, working against The Order to preserve memories and pass them on. Simon and Lucien form a plan to uncover the suppression of The Order, in hopes of creating a new world where people can choose for themselves and hold their memories dear and close in their hearts.
The Chimes is a fresh piece of speculative fiction exploring a world I haven’t previously encountered. It is definitely different and has an intriguing premise. Being a music lover, I am not especially fond of the fact that music was used against the people in a negative way, but this story unfolds with a poetic beauty and style that makes it both unique and captivating.
I want to thank the publisher (Quercus US) for providing me with the ARC through NetGalley for an honest review.