|This scary cover almost made me not want to read it.|
Okay. For those of you who remain, I’ll now note that if you are familiar with the habits of the cuckoo, then you’ll be able to guess pretty quickly that this is a changeling story. The era is shortly after WWI, in England. The narrator is thirteen-year-old Triss, who has recently woken from illness, after an accident when she fell into a sort of mill pond. She’s gradually feeling better, and her world is starting to fall back into place, except that her family is…treating her strangely. Her younger sister Pen acts scared of her, and insists she just isn’t herself—but then, Pen always hated her. Even Triss’s parents, though, are acting weird, whispering and lying to her.
And then there’s the fact that Triss doesn’t quite FEEL like herself. For one thing, she is ravenously hungry. She can eat and eat and eat and not feel satisfied. But when she checks her diaries to see what might have happened and why she might be this way, all the pages have been mysteriously ripped out. One day, she follows her sister into town to try to get to the bottom of things, and finds out that not only is she NOT who she thought she was, but the Architect who made her that way may soon be threatening her entire family, her entire town, and her very existence.
Observations: I love the unexpected twist here on the changeling story: we get the viewpoint of the usurper, who has so completely been plunged into the life of the original Triss that she thinks she IS Triss, at first. By the time she finds out she isn’t, Not-Triss already cares for her family, even her sister—because she has Triss’s memories, too. And she feels no allegiance towards those who created her and forced her into this situation. The changeling in this story, as it turns out, is NOT the one to be worried about...
In certain ways, this reminds me of stories like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, wherein the adults are either flawed or evil, and the kids have to band together. And in Cuckoo Song, boy is there plenty of flawed-ness and evil to go around. The parents are selfish and desperate, and allow their grief over their son (lost in WWI) to drive their decisions. Meanwhile, the adults who are fey or fey-involved are downright malicious and scary. It was a huge relief when a trustworthy adult eventually did come along to be an ally for Not-Triss and Pen—and ultimately, that resulted in a satisfying ending, with the sisters saving the day and their ally taking enough of a role that it was believable.
Conclusion: I won’t lie: this book was SUPER CREEPY. And that doll’s head on the cover almost made me not want to read it, but fortunately the actual dolls were not a huge part of the book. But, as always with Hardinge’s books, the writing was exquisite, and the story was an unputdownable adventure as well as a story about sisterhood and friendship.
I bought my copy of this book on Amazon. You can find CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!