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.