Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.
Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.
SIX STARRED REVIEWS
“…a darkly beguiling fantasy.” –Publisher’s Weekly
“Billingsley takes the time to develop a layered narrative adorned with linguistic filigree—she is one of the great prose stylists of the field…” –Kirkus Reviews
“Exquisite to the final word.” –Booklist
“…both lushly sensual and shivery.” –School Library Journal
“…extraordinary and moving…” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“…an entirely original concoction.” –Horn Book
I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please.
I don't mean to be difficult, but I can't bear to tell my story. I can't relive those memories—the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp. How can you possibly think me innocent? Don't let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.
I know you believe you're giving me a chance—or, rather, it's the Chime Child giving me the chance. She's desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but please believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I've already told you, which is that I'm wicked. Can't the Chime Child take my word for it?
In any event, where does she expect me to begin? The story of a wicked girl has no true beginning. I'd have to begin with the day I was born.
If Eldric were to tell the story, he'd likely begin with himself, on the day he arrived in the Swampsea. That's where proper stories begin, don't they, when the handsome stranger arrives and everything goes wrong?
But this isn't a proper story, and I'm telling you, I ought to be hanged.