Friday, 15 May 2015

Carnegie Review - Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song opens with the awakening of eleven year old Triss, who after a near-drowning has gaps in her memory, and also, somehow, in herself. Her little sister, Pen, knows she’s not right, and hates her for it. So do her dolls. And her overanxious parents are increasingly suspicious, which leads Triss to investigate what happened on the day of the accident at the pool known as ’the Grimmer … black as perdition and narrow as a half-closed eye'.

Cuckoo Song is a changeling story with a twist; it is told from the perspective of the changeling herself. But the twists don’t end there. Its characters are rarely who they initially seem, forcing Triss to rapidly change her allegiances. The readers loyalties change too, as the characters' competing ideas of what is right and good is explored, and how far they’ll go in following them is exposed.

The world these characters inhabit also twists, from the evocative 1920’s England of the opening, to the increasingly creepy magical structures built within it. And the theme of building extends throughout the story, with characters including a menacing architect and the mysterious Shrike, who animates objects into living beings, to the themes of rebuilding a family after betrayal and building a life after the death of another, or of oneself.

This is a long book, and the tension mounts gradually in the first quarter, until eventually taking off at breakneck speed. But throughout, Cuckoo Song is filled with rich folklore and the unique, descriptive flair of Hardinge, a multi-award winning children’s novelist.

Reviewed by Claire McCauley

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