This was one of my favorite books of last year, and I have no idea how to review it.

It's best read entirely unspoiled, but it contains some elements that 1) I would normally warn people about, 2) might not be dealbreakers for people for whom they normally are, due to spoilery reasons, 3) even saying what they are is going to be either spoilery or misleading, 4) but I actually do want to warn people because they really are disturbing, but then the book goes in a completely different direction after that.

Also, most of what I liked about the book is extremely spoilery, but a lot of what made it so enjoyable was that I wasn't expecting it. I can say what happens in the first fourth or so, but again, the first fourth is really different in both tone and content from the rest of the book. ARRGH.

Okay, so, the book contains creepy body horror and a really disturbing (non-sexual) scene of a parent attempting to harm their child. There is an in-book reason for both that may or may not mean that readers who normally wouldn't touch a book containing such things would actually be OK with them in-context. The child is not actually harmed (though scared and upset) and the rest of the book is not disturbing at all, or at least it wasn't for me. Effectively, there is a genre-switch about a fourth of the way in. It starts as a mystery, quickly goes to horror, and then goes somewhere else entirely that is definitely not horror (though it has elements of… um… spookiness, I guess.) Also, it is almost entirely about women and girls and their relationships; there are important male characters, but they're secondary.

Setting is 1920s, post-WWI; I don't recall if we get an exact date, but the time period, like basically everything else in the book, initially looks like a colorful detail but turns out to be crucially important. 11-year-old Triss falls into the river and gets sick. She's sickly in general, so this isn't new; what is new is that her sister acts really weird around her, alternately angry and frightened and generally strange. And Triss herself feels changed, different, with bizarre cravings. Not for blood or flesh, but for much stranger things. Rotten, fallen apples. Doll's heads. Pincushions. And then her parents start whispering about her behind closed doors.

Triss is sure something happened to her in the fall in the river, but she doesn't remember it. Her doctor says this is normal after a shock. But she's not so sure...

And everything on out is giant spoilers for the entire rest of the book. Read more... )

Highly recommended, even in you do need to hastily skim some horrific sections near the beginning. Very vivid and original, with great characters. Definitely not a downer, despite the cover and intro.

Cuckoo Song

I feel bad for the cover artist. They went with the "creepy horror" (very off-putting to me) cover, but a more representative cover would have been spoilery. Probably something that just signaled 1920s; unsettling/non-realistic/odd would have been better.
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