Review: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

I’m not usually one to compare author’s to one another (faux pas, people, faux pas) but by golly is this one for the Gaiman fans. I’m not joking, if you are a fan of The Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, or anyone with their style then you have a good chance of enjoying Cuckoo Song.

It was such an intriguing, magical, deep & dark tale. Though classed as a middle-grade book it can easily be enjoyed by readers of any age because of such an original story line and magical quality to it.

I’ll admit, the only thing that kept me going at first was the intrigue. Triss, our main character, didn’t have a lot of depth to her. She just kind of existed in all of her “sweet, quiet, well-behaved” goodness; she was utterly boring and I felt more of an affinity for her brat sister, Pen. But the story starts right when all of the shit goes down: Triss has had an accident, there is something wrong with her, why is she eating dolls?

“No!” screamed Penny, so suddenly that everybody jumped. “She’s pretending! Can’t you see? It’s fake! Can’t any of you tell the difference?” Her gaze was fixed on Triss’s face with a look that could have splintered stone.

It made me so absurdly curious. Because that’s what the plot presentation was: totally absurd. But I mean that in a very good way. The book throws more questions at you before giving you any semblance of an answer, which adds to the intrigue but not my patience. So I muddled through with the iffy MC, dealt with the admittedly fairy decent writing style but that did not work for me at all in certain descriptive places.

“Its shocked cry sounded the way a scar looks.”

“This jazz had not wiped its feet; it crunched right into the room with gravel on its shoes.”

But in no time at all, it just gets better and better and better. There’s a reason for Triss’s initial flatness, and she grows into an excellent protagonist – still faaaaaaar too mature for a supposed 11-year-old (same goes for her sister) but that’s just a minute detail I wasn’t too fussed about. She goes through incredibly deep life stuffs and shows remarkable strength of character, compassion and intelligence throughout. She’s not going to win any awards for being a comic genius, quirky lass or in any way an incredibly memorable character, but she’s a good egg and certainly likable in my eyes.

The plot and fantasy world was just outstanding. Though it definitely had a Gaiman vibe – which I would describe as a very “alternative and dark fairy tale” – it’s the most original mid-fantasy I have read in a long time. Because of that I was continuously blown away by new magical creatures, aspects and ideas. Due to its originality I could never predict where the plot was going to go and what would happen to these characters I had grown really fond of. And predictability is a big thing with me.

I did not want this book to end, but in a way I’m sort of glad it wasn’t stretched into a trendy trilogy as that would have made a huge difference to my enjoyment. I like that we get our answers in the end (fucking finally) and it’s all wrapped up neatly in a little book bundle of literary magic.

I would recommend this one to everyone who likes a good fantasy with no trendy YA tropes (no romance, guys!), especially those who have a soft spot for fairy tales or Gaiman-esque world-building.

Oh, and ARCs are totally available on NetGalley right now – seriously, get on that.


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