You may recall way back in April that I went to the Fashionably Late World Book Night party with author Frances Hardinge in tow? Well, there was talk of there being copies of her latest book, Cuckoo Song, available for buying and signing but due to a post office snafu those books never appeared.
Well, not long after this I was contacted by her publisher and asked if I wanted a copy for review. Of course I said yes…
Unfortunately, being a very busy person, I have lately been very slow to get reviews out so here we are in September and I am only just getting round to putting my thoughts on this book down in a readable form.
Cuckoo Song is set in the fictitious English town of Ellchester, somewhere in Oxfordshire during the early 1920s. The post Great war vibe portrayed here is perfect for release in a year that sees the centenary of that war and the setting is vividly portrayed. Triss is a young girl who lives with her father (a famous architect credited with designing much of the town they live in), mother and younger sister (Penny). Her brother, Sebastian, died in the Great War leaving a fiancée and a grieving family behind.
The story begins with Triss having been rescued from almost drowning in a lake while the family are away on holiday. Following this incident, strange things begin to happen to her. She has gaps in her memory and a bizarre hunger that can only be satisfied by devouring her own toys and clothes. As time goes on, this strangeness tests her relationship with her parents and sister and her investigations into what has happened to her lead her to discover that there is more to her brother’s death than she had been told. She also delves into a hidden underbelly of the town ruled by a sinister being known as ‘The Architect’ and encounters the strangeness of that world, learning its secrets and dangers.
Hardinge deftly presents both the setting and the plot in a skilful manner, peeling back layers of world building and mystery in a way which has the reader slowly become aware of what is going on. This approach maintains the mystery as subtle clues you did not consider relevant slot into place and trigger small ‘ah ha’ moments at intervals. The setting starts out with a Downton Abby feel, all stiff gentlemen and upper middle class pomposity overlaid with a quaint olde worlde children’s book vibe, but soon develops hints of a world beneath that which is related more to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline – a dark, fey world of hidden evil and whimsy. The characters are also mostly well drawn and some, particularly Sebastian’s fiancée Violet and the Tailor Mr. Grace, are striking in their presence – the bold and adventurous, jazz loving Flapper with the hidden sorrow and the quirky, friendly tailor with a sinister undertone. You come to care for Triss and the other characters, though Triss in her early appearances seems selfish and whiny she soon gains a backbone that turns her in to a true hero.
In all this was a very enjoyable read and one which I am sure children of all ages will enjoy.
D.A Lascelles is the author of Lurking Miscellany, Transitions (Mundania Press) and Gods of the Sea (Pulp Empires). He lives in Manchester UK. You can sometimes see him writing about Zombie porn on https://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com/ but he mostly blogs about books, vampires, science fiction and Terry Pratchett. He is inordinately proud of the fact that one of his Pratchett articles was referenced on the French version of the author’s Wikipedia page.
He would like to point out that having Eddie pose with a copy of your book is a special privilege reserved for those who have met Eddie and given him a stroke.