Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge

Note: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

My first experiment with Ana’s beloved Frances Hardinge was a mixed bag. A Face Like Glass started slow and continued very strange before getting abruptly very exciting towards the end. But Cuckoo Song looked more my speed from the word go, a story about Britain in World War I, about sisters, and about a changeling.

(British authors and cuckoos, have you noticed? They can’t resist them! The cuckoo has infilitrated the British subconscious and hatched its eggs there.)

Triss wakes up one day scrambling to recover her memories. With some effort, she’s able to recall her parents, father and mother, and her angry, rebellious sister Pen. But for the life of her she can’t remember the event that her parents say has made her ill, falling in the gammer nearby and having to crawl out of it again. She knows that Pen hates and resents her, and she knows that she is desperately, unceasingly hungry.

Like A Face Like Glass, Cuckoo Song is a little slow to start. Triss takes quite some time sorting out what I knew from the jump (cause title), and only after that do the true adventures begin. In the meantime, there’s plenty of groundwork to be laid for future plot and emotions, which could profitably have been pruned back without affecting the work they’re doing for the story. But once the full premise is out in the open, the book becomes hard to put down; and I read it all in a single sitting.

A spoiler follows that you could probably figure out on your own (cause title). My favorite type of changeling story is the type where the family keeps the changeling. This is the full premise of Brenna Yovanoff’s excellent The Replacement, and this year I’ve read two successive books — this and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest — that each do something about kept changelings that I’ve never seen before. Triss’s realization that she’s not really Triss may be something of a foregone conclusion, but her journey to becoming a fully realized person in her own right is anything but.

Nestled comfortably into three of my particular sweet spots, Cuckoo Song is exciting and inventive without the studied whimsy of (parts of) A Face Like Glass. Frances Hardinge newbies will find it a perfect introduction to her particular brand of madness and suspense.

This has been my folklore read for the Once Upon a Time IX Challenge, which, I don’t want to be vain, but I am crushing it this year. Head over to the reviews page to see what everyone else has been reading.

  • Yay! I am putting this on my “must buy” list.

    • Gin Jenny

      Do! It’s good!

  • WHAT?! Once Upon a Time Has Started and I didn’t even notice! Crap! I want to play. *runs off to gather books*

    This does sound interesting. I have been reading a lot of things with slow starts lately. At this point I am becoming quite used to it.

    • Gin Jenny

      Me too I GUESS, but I still would truly prefer things to start with a bang!

  • Heather

    Why? WHY CAN I NOT GET INTO A HARDINGE BOOK? I feel like such a failure. Is it because they are slow to start? Am I not giving them enough TIME? The pain, Jenny. The pain.

    • Gin Jenny

      You tried this one also? Cause I had a really REALLY hard time with A Face Like Glass, and if Ana hadn’t sent it to me as a gift, I would almost certainly have abandoned it. But Cuckoo’s Song, as well as being more up my alley, was just an easier one to get into. There was more payoff sooner. But for sure, the issue of Hardinge’s books getting off to a slow start is very real.

  • Jenny

    I think I’d like to make books about changelings one of my things. There’s a changeling in Little, Big and it’s one of the most memorable things about the book for me. I’ll try this one (or maybe one of the other ones you mention — The Replacement sounds great.)

    • Gin Jenny

      Goody! Do! And then please report back to me. I love books about changelings but have a hard time finding a sufficient number of them. There is also The Moorchild, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, but it’s been untold eons since I last read that one.

  • I don’t think I have read any by this author, but love the sound of this folklore novel. It’s been a long time since I read a book like this. Congratulations on doing so well in the Once Upon a Time challenge!

  • Gin Jenny

    Thank you! I don’t know if I can fairly call it a folklore novel, but I was having a really hard time finding something that fit in the folklore category for Once Upon a Time. So OH WELL I am counting it!

  • I think this totally counts as a folklore novel! It’s folklore updated for the industrial era.

    • Gin Jenny

      Thank you! I appreciate your support in this matter.

  • I just picked up her newest, The Lie Tree. I think she keeps getting better and better, and I’m excited to see what this one is about—her books are all so different from each other.

    I wonder if having a hard time getting into her books depends on how interested you are in the setting? I thought Caverna was fantastic, so it didn’t matter to me that the plot was slow; I was hanging on every word of description.

    I haven’t read a lot of changeling books that I can remember. It’s an interesting concept that’s particularly appropriate for kids’ books (do I really belong in this family?). The Replacement keeps popping up on my radar; I’ll have to check it out. I’m hesitant about Holly Black’s latest because I have mixed luck with her books. They’re always very good, but I don’t always like them, if you know what I mean.

    (I saw what you did with that cuckoo metaphor!)

  • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    I’m one of those who tried Hardinge (Fly by Night) and put her aside. But I’d like to give her another try. The theme of the changeling who has to “become a fully realized person in her own right” is one that appeals to me.