Monday, 11 September 2017

Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge


The first things to shift were the doll's eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swiveled 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...


Unless you've been living under a rock or this is your first visit to my blog you will all know about my love of Frances Hardinge's books. I recommend them to anyone who stands still long enough! What is really noticeable though is that there aren't any reviews of her books, at all, anywhere on this blog. My problem seems to be that the more I love a book or indeed its author the more I have trouble trying to put together a coherent review, or even sentence... I am determined though, to start writing them so am slowly re-reading all of her books. 

I'm not sure why my re-read started with Cuckoo Song. It's not the first Frances Hardinge book I ever read, or my favorite (that's A Face Like Glass) but it's my second favorite, and it's the book that is most like a book that I would write. Seriously. I want to live in Frances Hardinge's imagination because it must be a wonderful place to reside.

Triss and Pen are sisters that have never really got on. After Sebastian, their older brother, went off to fight in WWI Triss was pampered and cosseted to the point where she thinks of herself as an invalid. This is the impression of Triss that everybody has come to accept, but not Pen. She is treated horribly by Triss and rebels by running away on a regular basis. Whilst on holiday Triss falls into the Grimmer, a lake or river near their holiday home, and it's from this point that things take an unsettling turn. Triss knows something isn't quite right but because she's been ill for half of her life she thinks it's yet another illness taking hold of her. Except. This illness has made Pen terrified to be near her, has left dead leaves and other bits and bobs in a trail behind her, and given her a hunger that nothing seems to satisfy. Nothing that is, until she eats a doll and the hole in her stomach seems to be temporarily filled.

On their return home, things continue to be strange and weird. Triss is starting to realise that she's not quite the old Triss, her parents are talking about a strange man that they seem to be scared of, letters from someone are arriving - inside a locked drawer, but strangest of all is that Pen is nearly kidnapped by a movie screen in an old theater and we're introduced to The Architect. From now on it's a race against time for Triss, or Not-Triss as she's calling herself now, to save herself, mend her relationship with Pen, and find out just what is going on in the darker corners of Ellchester. This is where the fantastical comes in, fairies but not as we know them. They're the Besiders, living alongside humans in places where once that wasn't possible. Church bells once drove the Besiders away but thanks to the aftermath of the Great War they're no longer as effective, people simply don't believe as much after their huge losses, and they're coming back in droves. In part, this is thanks to Mr. Crescent, the girls' father, who has made a deal with the Architect. In return for something to do with Sebastian and keeping his memory alive, Mr. Crescent has to design his new buildings a certain way including a pyramid currently being constructed at the new railway station.

Apart from Triss, Pen and their parents, and the Architect, there are two more characters of note in Cuckoo Song. One is Mr. Grace the tailor, whom we meet after a pair of metal scissors displayed above his shop door fall and nearly hit Triss. The tailor befriends Triss and says nothing of her huge appetite after she consumes plate after plate of cake whilst being fitted for a new dress. Mr. Grace is not as innocent as he appears to be and in fact leads to some of the pivotal points in Cuckoo Song, no pun intended after the above scissor incident. 

The other is Violet Parish, Sebastian's former fiancée, who is no longer part of the Crescent family's life. Dismissed from their thoughts as someone who wasn't worthy of Sebastian, Violet has her own 'otherness' to deal with but of course, Triss and Pen don't know this until Violet becomes the one person they can rely on to keep them both alive and discover that she's not the heartless, cold creature their mother likes to say she is. I think Violet was quite possibly my favorite character, fiercely independent, not just out of necessity but because she wants more from her life as a woman in the 1920's, she has a motorcycle and sidecar, spends her nights dancing to jazz and is constantly on the move. Violet doesn't know it but she might be the one person who can help Not-Triss to save the Crescent family and save herself from her grief.

Cuckoo Song is a fantastical/supernatural/historical/mystery novel about the aftermath of war, grief and the hold it can have over you with changelings, a wonderful new take on fairies in the Besiders, weirdness, the bond between sisters and a young girl's struggle to fight against monsters, even though that's the way some people view her. I have nothing else to say except read it as Frances Hardinge might be your new favorite author...


Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge
ISBN - 9780330519731
Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Release date - May 8th, 2014


1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of this author! I love a good young adult novel that appeals to adults. I will have to add this to my list. Great review!

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