CYBILS FINALIST REVIEW: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows 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 to 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 . . .
Set in England after World War I, this is a brilliantly creepy but ultimately loving story of the relationship between two sisters who have to band together against a world where nothing is as it seems.
Hardinge is an author that I've heard a lot about over the years but the one time I tried one of her books, I didn't like it and never finished it. So I was curious to see if I'd like this one when I sat down to read it. And I have to say that I was impressed. Hardinge tells her story amazingly well. That's the first thing I noticed was the great writing with all it's unusual details and metaphors. This is the kind of writing that makes me sit up and take notice and helps the reader really visualize the setting and characters. With speculative fiction, it's especially important to make setting as believable as possible, otherwise the reader gets lost. Hardinge creates a vivid picture of the town of Ellchester with it's unusual bridges built by Triss's father, Piers Crescent. As Triss moves through the story, the town becomes very much a part of the story. One gets the distinct feeling that this story really couldn't have happened anywhere else.
As far as characters go, Triss is intriguing from the get go with her missing memories and strong sense that something is really wrong. The strange relationships she has with her overbearing but well-meaning parents to a sister who hates her to an insatiable hunger that goes way beyond food all lead Triss down a path that she can never return from, even if she wanted to. And unfortunately for Triss, she discovers that nothing is what it seems, not even herself.
The plot twists and turns and throws unique circumstances at the reader as we follow Triss through a maze of difficulties. The underlying theme about having to live with the consequences of the choices we make, even the impulsive ones shines through loud and clear but never overpowers the story. Hardinge also does a great job creating an incredibly creepy atmosphere that hangs over the story from page one. I have to say that this is one of the most unique fantasy books I've ever read, I can't think of another quite like it. However, I would recommend this more for more skilled readers because of the intricacies of the plot and the detailed writing. But for those that stick with it, they will find it more than worth the effort.