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Literature / Cuckoo Song

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Theresa Crescent, or Triss for short, seems to have recovered after her accident with the Grimmer - whatever it has entailed. All should be well. Except nothing is. Chunks of her memory are missing, she suffers from unsatiable hunger, her little sister is scared witless of her and her parents seem to have a couple of secrets of their own. Her own dolls threaten her verbally, scissors attack her physically and there's a mysterious voice in her head that counts down the seven days that she has left every morning. Worst of all, however hard she tries, she cannot remember what has happened on that fateful day when she stumbled home from the Grimmer, wet, trembling, helpless and in possession of none of her memories. But does she really want to remember?

Cuckoo Song is the sixth novel by the British children's author Frances Hardinge.

Tropes found in this novel include:

  • Achilles' Heel: Scissors will always turn on Besiders that get close, and make an effective weapon against them. Church Bells 'used' to be one as well, but the war inadvertently made them ineffective.
  • Alien Geometries: The Architect's forte.
  • Berserk Button: The Architect does not take it well if you try to break a bargain with him. The reactions of the Shrike suggest that this is common for Besiders.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: It's not that the Besiders are evil, they're more like stuck in a state of perpetual childhood, compared to humans. Like children, they don't really understand that what they do may hurt humans.
  • Changeling Fantasy: It's questionable whether this should even be spoilered out, because this particular spoiler is right there on the author's website (the "About the Author" page, namely). However, the narration certainly treats this as a reveal.
  • Chekhov's Gun: One of Frances Hardinge's trademark tropes, it seems. The most notable examples are the necklace Pen gives to Not-Triss and Sebastian's watch.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Early on Not-Triss shows superb balance and agility when she quite casually vaults a fence to steal a chicken. This is employed again during a rooftop chase at the end of the book. Also, in an odd way, her slow disintegration into leaves and other debris results in her leaving a trail out of the Architect's labyrinth later still
  • Deal with the Devil: Triss' parents and later their youngest daughter Pen strike a deal with the Architect - the king of fairies, that is. He's not really evil, though, just... very, very wacky.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Another favourite trope of the author. While this is not what's going on, the descriptions of Triss' constant ravenous hunger and her fits of gluttony may hit close to home for people with an eating disorder.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Triss is a sickly child, her big brother was killed in World War I and her little sister Penny has, shall we say, anger management issues. Naturally, all of it has left her parents quite distraught.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Foreshadowing: The snowflakes that start to fall not long after we first meet Violet.
  • Meaningful Rename: Pen starts calling Not-Triss "Trista" after meeting the Shrike. She keeps the name for the rest of the story, and it indirectly proves crucial later.
  • The Fair Folk: The Besiders. There's no way of describing them except for "really, really weird".
  • The Flapper: Violet, apparently based on Frances Hardinge's grandmother.
  • Great Britain during the Roaring Twenties: The setting.
  • Glamour Failure: Not-Triss/Trista appears perfectly human at first, but as the story goes on details such as her clawed fingers and toes, as well as her having thorns instead of teeth, start to show up more and more. The Shrike and the Architect also have human appearances that don't stand up to close scrutiny.
  • Happily Adopted: Trista, by Violet, by the end of the story
  • Horror Hunger: Triss suffers from it. It turns out she is only satisfied by things important to the real Triss, and the Architect outright tells her to eat Pen at one point
  • Knight Templar: Downplayed, but Mr Grace clearly believes absolutely that the Besiders are evil and have to be eliminated. Given his past, it's understandable.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Violet invokes this with Trista In a rather heartwarming moment towards the end of the story.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: They are NOT fairies, they're Besiders.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Averted, surprisingly for a work of modern fantasy. They're weird, sure, but they're not that different from the fairies of British folklore.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Violet, in any matters not related to the Besiders.
  • Spoiled Brat: Pen. By the end of the book she does grow out of it. Slightly.
    • Trista later suggests the real Triss has shades of this
  • Tomato in the Mirror: The Changeling Fantasy mentioned earlier. Triss discovers she's actually a copy of the real Triss, who was kidnapped.
  • Wham Line: observant readers will have worked it out already, but in universe, when Pen tells Tris she never actually fell in the Grimmer
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Not-Triss/Trista is on borrowed time right from the start, and begins to literally fall to pieces later on as things get worse. She gets better