Book Review: CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge

Title in white on black next to the image of a doll
Genre: Fantasy/Horror/Historical
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Standalone


book cover for CUCKOO SONG: title in white besides a creepy doll and surrounded by apples

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth, she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late… 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This is another bizarre, bizarre book from Frances Hardinge – but in the best way possible. I was at a complete loss when trying to describe this book to a friend, as it’s so hard to pin down. Some parts of it are horror-like (the dolls!), others are fantasy (the society of Besiders trying to find space to live), and it’s all set in a fictional town in 1925 England.

I’ve seen lots of 1920s fantasy, but they’re roaring twenties books, often set in American or inspired by the glitz and glam of that era. While the glitz and glam was present in some parts of London society, the bulk of England was very different from that stereotypical image.

Ellchester, the fictional town at the heart of this book, is set somewhere in the West Country, towards the Welsh Border, as far as I can guess from the name and hills. The characters are upper-middle class, but not the massively wealthy, so it paints a very different picture – and felt much more relatable than the roaring twenties wealth.

The older but still touchable world was the perfect setting for this book, as it made the strange events feel just outside of our own reality. It was creepy and unsettling, but also so completely normal at the same time. I’m really finding myself falling in love with her strange style. It also allowed the book to look at the consequences of the First World War over a decade on from the start, with life trying to return to “normal”, and I loved that aspect.

I read this for the Royal Readathon under the “family” prompt – basing my choice off the fact that the word family was mentioned twice in the blurb on my copy. It was a stab into the gloom (not quite dark!), but this ended up being far more family orientated than I’d initially thought. I loved the complicated relationship between Triss and Pen, and how they grew to depend on each other over the book.

I’m excited for the other books by her on my shelves now!

Read my reviews of other books by Frances Hardinge:


Fly By Night:

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