RogerBW's Blog

Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge 19 July 2017

2014 fantasy. Triss has survived a fall in the river, but she doesn't feel quite right: she's permanently hungry, her memories are fuzzy, and her sister refuses to talk to her.

I've enjoyed every Hardinge I've read, but I've loved the fully separate worlds more than the books set in something like our own world plus magic (here, even if Ellchester doesn't really exist, it's still in a world of the 1920s that has motorcycles, jazz, and the long shadow of the Great War). Partly that's because Hardinge has such a gift for the slightly-strange that the real world setting sometimes feels as though it's constraining it in the early chapters before the magic really gets going; partly it's because even Hardinge finds it hard to avoid the appearance of a Problem Book with a Nasty Little Sister and Parents Who Don't Understand.

But trust the author and bore on through the first chapters. It's worth it. This is a story steeped in fairy-tale lore told from a perspective that I've never seen before, and more importantly a story about people making decisions with limited and biased information and then having to live with the consequences.

After a long period of silence, there came a sense that hugging had solved all it could.

And Hardinge gives the protagonist at least three different names at various times, something which for most writers should be on the list of Things Never To Do, but it's never confusing, and more importantly there's a point to it.

Wenwick was fifty miles' drive away, an old-fashioned resort with long, arcing streets of wide-windowed, staring houses. Even though the Wenwick baths were no longer considered to cure everything from gout to toothache, the place still bristled with doctors, like a crust of barnacles marking a high water point after the tide had gone out.

When we do eventually resolve the toxic family situation, it all makes much more sense: it's flowed out of who these people are and what's happened to them, rather than because it's what the protagonist needs to Learn an Important Lesson. Nobody here is an out-and-out villain. Not even the guy wearing the Obvious Villain Hat.

All right, this was rather darker than the glorious romp of A Face Like Glass, but my word it's bloody good.

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