Review: ‘Cuckoo Song’ by Frances Hardinge

Blurb from GoodReads: 

The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’ It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late…

Review:

Another day, another review of a book by Frances Hardinge!  Ok, so I KNOW I have been posting a lot of reviews on her work lately, but there is something about her writing style that just stays with you…sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Because to be honest, this book is REALLY creepy in places. Early on in the novel, I wondered whether it was just too heavy on the creep factor for me. I nearly put it to one side, but I persisted with it because Hardinge’s writing style- and her use of imagery- is so innovative and vivid, it gives you goosebumps. For someone like me- who reads so voraciously, often sticking to the same kind of genres, i.e YA, fantasy, fiction, etc.- it is a wonderful feeling to read writing that feels so fresh and new. The 1920s setting and atmosphere was also skillfully rendered. It’s clear that Hardinge has done her research into the 1920s era and the aftermath of the Great War. Unfortunately, there are many other parts of this novel that give you goosebumps- and for me, not quite in a good way. Triss’s sense of alienation, isolation and confusion, and the voracious hunger she constantly feels- driving her to even eat porcelain dolls, rotten apples, pin cushions and necklaces- was hard to read about.

Although wonderfully descriptive, the first section of the novel- where Triss is trapped at home, with her own sister afraid of her- felt eerie and almost macabre. The second part of the novel- where Triss leaves her suffocating home and begins to bond with her sister, Pen (short for Penelope) felt better, less laden with the tombstone-heavy sense of loss and grief that emanated from Triss’s parents. (Triss’s brother, Sebastian, was killed in the First World War.) I also felt this worked better because I began to get a sense of real magic coming into play- first the reader begins to believe that Triss is some kind of changeling, but also that her days are somehow numbered. The mysterious ‘Architect’ figure begins to threaten her and her sister, then the ‘Shrike’ (no spoilers) and then they commence a journey into a sinister and menacing ‘faerie land’ of sorts, called the Underbelly. The pace also sped up considerably, and I enjoyed the introduction of Sebastian’s fiancee, Violet, a spirited ‘Bright Young Thing’ with a dark (and magical) secret of her own. At points it was incredibly moving. It was superbly written, and one that did grip me, but it’s also pretty darn spooky for a book not specifically written for adults. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers not used to this sort of thing, or to read late at night!

Overall rating: 7 out of 10

Read if you enjoyed: ‘Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs.

This book in four words: Imaginative. Atmospheric. Dark. Chilling.

Image credits: No 1 image from angel-bruises, No 2 image from behindtheyesthings, all from Tumblr

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