“But scissors are really intended for one job alone – snipping things in two. Dividing by force. Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between.”
Cuckoo Song is the latest novel by one of my all-time favourite authors, Frances Hardinge, so I was very excited to have been given the chance to read this before it’s released. I know I talk about Hardinge from time to time but I cannot emphasise how imaginative and original each of her books are; Cuckoo Song has shot up the list of my favourite reads this year so far.
Our protagonist, Triss, is a sickly child living with overbearing parents and a younger sibling, Pen, who seems to hate her. As the novel opens Triss has evidently gone through a traumatic event that she can’t quite remember but has developed the oddest habits since – she has a constant gnawing hunger, memories which feel like they aren’t hers, and strange, inexplicable things have started to happen around her. As Triss begins to realise who she really is the story opens up into a wickedly spooky tale of creatures that live in impossible places, striking bargains that cannot be broken with unwitting people and creating things out of mundane objects. And although all of this is fantastic, this at heart remains a story about sisterhood, courage and believing in yourself, that you deserve a place in the world.
I loved the characters, especially Triss and Pen. Hardinge develops the relationship between the two of them in a realistic, poignant way – the two sisters fight constantly, doing petty things to each other and yet the bond between them runs deep and true despite everything that happens. Pen was wonderful, a nine year old whirlwind of rage and tantrums mixed with extraordinary bravery, vulnerability and naivete. Triss is actually a really intriguing character and I loved watching her battle with her instincts while trying to figure out who she was and where she belonged – she is a character who above all you want to root for, and it’s a clever subversion of things we tend to only think about in a negative light because this story places Triss as a protagonist rather than an antagonist. The other characters were also amazing – Violet was another favourite because I just loved the image of her swearing and smoking while listening to jazz and riding on her motorcycle. The antagonist is a great character too because his presence is so sinister, and I loved the myriad characters that live on the ‘other side’ because they bring a spooky, kind of scary, actually, tone to the story.
I loved the prose; the descriptions of the world, the detail given to Triss and the sheer imagery of her character was outstanding tbh. Also, the reveal? I did not see it coming, guys. What a good everything when a book can wrap you in its story so successfully. Gullstruck Island is still my favourite novel of hers, but Cuckoo Song was a fantastic addition to Hardinge’s works and I really hope a lot of people read it because it deserves to be read and talked about more.