BOOK REVIEW: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
May 2014, $14.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
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…
Despite there being quite a lot of typographical errors in the text, Cuckoo Song was an incredibly creepy book that kept me guessing, right to the very last page. I know people say that a lot, but I haven’t been this unsure of where a book was heading, nor this unsure of where I wanted a book to go since… Well, I can’t even think of another book to compare this to.
It’s a changeling story told from a different point of view to most, but beyond that, it’s a story about people. It’s a story about broken human beings, and the things they’ll do to try and feel useful again.
Piers and Celeste Crescent are beside themselves with grief when their oldest son dies fighting for his country. So one can hardly blame them for the way this modifies their behaviour towards their two remaining children. They’re just trying to go on with life, while there’s a big, gaping, son-sized hole in their world.
They become overprotective of Triss, to the point where they pull her out of school, fire the governesses she gets attached to, and keep her away from anything that might put some colour in her cheeks. Because that colour is surely a sign of a fever, right? And we don’t want to lose another child, do we?
And the way Penelope is being treated is her own fault, really. What with her constantly insisting that her big sister isn’t really sick, when her parents are so busy making sure that Triss is kept away from stress…
But then Triss starts to work out what is happening to her, and now she and Pen are on the run, and racing against time to find the real Triss, and stop Not-Triss’s days from running out.
This is a really hard book to tell you about without giving things away, and without robbing you of that same experience I had, so I’m trying to be tactful about this.
If you like creepy, if you like gothic, if you like beautifully written prose, read this book.
If you read middle grade fiction and wonder if there’s more to this world that what we see with our human eyes, read this book.
If you’ve never read middle grade before, and you’re really not sure if it’s for you, read this book.
But a warning for the Grammar Nazis, editors, and pedants out there; there are typos, words missing, and words repeated. I’ve seen worse, but not in trad published books.
I’d still advise reading it, but just keep that in mind and try and tune out your inner editor before you begin.
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