Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2015 by Amulet Books.

Following a mysterious accident that left her sopping wet, Triss awakens to a world that’s eerily off-kilter. Her memories are muddled, her sister despises her, pages have been stolen from her private journal, and her appetite is insatiable. Confusion quickly turns to dread as she begins to see and hear things she shouldn’t. Her dolls reveal themselves to be deceitful, living creatures; she’s suddenly and inexplicably afraid of scissors; and when she brushes her hair, out sprinkle crumbled fragments of leaves. Then she stumbles across evidence that her beloved brother, killed in the war, is actually alive—and she begins to suspect that the secrets lurking within her home are even more shocking than her twisted new reality. Is Triss going mad? Or did her accident trigger an nightmarish chain of events? In her quest to learn the truth, Triss ventures from the shelter of her parents’ protective wings into the city’s underbelly. There she encounters strange creatures whose grand schemes could forever alter the fates of her family.

Cuckoo Song starts out as a relatively creepy, suspenseful story and then spirals into strange territory with the introduction of the Besiders and the revelation of what really happened to Triss. Hardinge, as always, is a beautiful writer and crafts a hauntingly pretty story.

However, Hardinge doesn’t pull everything off as successfully as she might like, and at one point I had a severe disconnect with the story when the book was telling me I should feel one way and I was feeling another way. So my sympathies didn’t always align with Triss as they were meant to, especially at one point when the book is saying “This is a terrible thing!” and I’m saying “Um, this really isn’t so terrible.”

I’m not really a fan of this sort of genre, either, but I will say that Hardinge did a good job and I was engaged with Cuckoo Song for the most part, though I read it in bits and pieces because of general busy-ness. Not everything worked for me and I didn’t always sympathize with the characters, but I was at least involved with their plight as a whole. It was, however, a little too strange for me, and I think I might actually have liked it better if it had been a straight-up horror rather than urban fantasy.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Scary images and scenes.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What are you doing here?” she asked under her breath. “I’m thirteen. Why do I still carry a doll around?”

And it was while these words were still hanging in the air that the doll moved in her hands.

The first things to shift were the eyes, the beautiful gray-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 an echo of Triss’s words, 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.”

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