Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Triss, Not-Triss, Trista

On my epic trip of awesome I got a chance to read a book beginning to end.  I actually tossed this book in my back pack on a whim 'cause I had totally forgotten I had got it and stuck it on my shelf.  Turns out it was the perfect book to read as an October/Trip hybrid.  The book is Cuckoo Song by the ever creative Frances Hardinge.  The book, besides having a Halloween worthy cover also turned out to be a completely different read (in a good way) then I thought it would be.  What made this book so interesting, let's find out.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!
Triss wakes up all befuddled.  She is told that she fell into the river and suffered yet another illness...which accounts for her inability to think straight.  As she recovers, her little sister Pen starts to freak out, telling her she is not the real Triss.  As Triss's memories start to come back we learn that the Crescent family has all kinds of private problems.  The oldest brother, Sebastion died in the war five years ago, Triss has been sickly ever since and Pen acts out to get some attention from her parents, away from the ever sick Triss.  All of this is covered with a veneer of civility and wealth as their father is a genius civil engineer that has single handedly revitalized their town.  Triss develops an insatiable hunger that concerns her parents.  She also starts to see her dolls move and supposedly catches her little sister placing a weird phone call.  Her father takes her to the doctor after becoming worried that her recent fever has left her a bit touched in the head.  She passes it off as sleep walking and is taken for a new dress to make her feel better.  Here she meets Mr. Grace who lets her eat as much as she wants. Triss overhears her parents talking about a mysterious person who may have been responsible for her fall in the river and she investigates.  She discovers a weird creature delivering letters to the desk in her dead brothers room.  When she reads the letters she finds that they are from Sebastion and talk about a horrible place that he is trapped in.  She captures the creature delivering the letters and gets the location of the Shrike, a being associated with the Architect who may be able to help her figure out just what is going on.  One day while she is supposed to be resting she notices Pen sneaking out and follows her.  She arrives at a cinema and follows Pen into a weird back room where she overhears a conversations between her little sister and a being known as the Architect.  Turns out Pen made a deal with this creature to take Triss away so that her parents could finally be happy.  However as part of the deal, the Architect had a cuckoo made that looks like Triss and has Triss's memories but was made of sticks, leaves and Triss's memento's.  She will only live for seven days until the Architect does whatever he means to do with the real Triss.  Understandably the changling Triss is upset about the whole thing.  Back at home, tension has risen to an all time high and the girls parents decide to take Triss to a specialist.  Not Triss, as she calls herself now is taken to see several people and eventually they end up at a little cottage.  After being tricked into revealing herself, Mr. Grace appears and tells her parents what she is, not their daughter, but a changling placed by beings called Besiders, which is a type of fey.  He tells her parents that they need to burn her so that the Besiders will bring back the real Triss.  Not-Triss is saved from burning by the appearance of Pen and the girls make a run for it.  They are taken care of by the wild and strong Violet, the fiance of their dead brother who is no longer welcome at the Crescent household.  Not-Triss and Pen follow the Besider directions and end up in the Underbelly and finally get the whole story from the Shrike.  Turns out that Besiders can only live where there is uncertainty and with the advance of maps and science their living ground is shrinking.  The Architect has learned to make impossible spaces to house the Besiders but needed a legit city guy to get them built.  He offered Mr. Crescent contact with his dead son in return for passing off the ideas as his own.  Eventually Mr. Crescent no longer wants to honor the deal and this angers the Architect who goes and makes a deal with Pen.  Pen asks the Architect to take Triss away because she felt her constant illness and spoiledness was making her parents unhappy.  The Architect has the Shrike make not-Triss to distract everybody until he can exact his revenge.  Pen and not-Triss...whom Pen renames Trista after a couple of adventures bond the two...hook back up with Violet to evade Mr. Grace and their parents.  They learn that the Architect has been bringing in Besiders to eventually move into a space he created in the city and plans to get his revenge by burying the real Triss alive.  Trista decides to help the real Triss, regardless of the Architects attempts to tempt her to help him by giving her ways to live past seven days.  Trista and the Architect face off and Trista grabs a stopped watch that had been keeping Sebastion suspended in the bad place and starts it again.  The Architect is defeated and Triss and Pen are reunited with their parents.  Trista uses the watch to stop time for herself and survive.  Trista and Violet decide to start a new life together while the Crescent family tries to figure out how to move forward.
World Building - This was a great and unique world, blending the familiar world of post WWI England with just a touch of the fantastic.  I feel the author blended the Besiders world very well with our world and showed exactly where and how the crossover was.  The world was built through action and observation which meant no long rambling descriptions to break up the narrative and I loved it!

Story - This story was so different from what I originally thought it would be.  This is in some ways the fault of the blurbs.  The way the description of the book and the one line "reviews" sound, I thought it would be a bit of a horror novel OR that Triss would take the whole book to figure out what she was.  Instead I got a story of discovery and relationships.  The story very much was about a family discovering who they really where and how they needed to relate to each other.  The focus was on Triss and Pen, but all the characters had their places in the story.  In the end the story was less about drawing out the suspense and more about discovery and growing.  It had a clear beginning, middle and end.  Very original story.

Character - I think one of my favorite aspects of the book was the author's treatment of the characters.  Every single character had...I want to say two faces.  There was the facade they showed the world for whatever reason and then there was their true selves.  This was the most apparent in not-Triss as she was literally not her true self and had to discover who she was supposed to be, but every single character had multiple facets.  The book did a great job at showing us how and why the society facade came about and why each character felt they had to show a different face to the world.  We also got to discover each characters true self, their motives, loves, hates, history and all the complications of being a living being.  Fantastic job with the characters.

Editing - Very good pacing for this story.  The combination of writing and editing was great.  None of this, let's draw out the mystery just for tensions sake.  The book was more about discovery and less about trying for a gotcha twist.  I felt like I got through this book very quickly.  My only tiny editing qualm would be that the last quarter of the book started to feel a bit repetitive with the girls constantly running, hiding, sleeping and repeating.  Overall though the pacing was spot on and the whole thing actually made great sense.  Good job.

Family - At it's core I really felt that this story was about the Crescent family and how they had to deal with the massive changes in their life.  They were a settled wealthy English family who's life was shattered by the was most peoples.  They all did things to adjust.  Triss was "ill and sickly" so that her parents had somebody to take care of to take the focus off of their grief.  Pen, to young to understand acted out because she knew no other way.  The parents doing what they can to cope within the strictures of a very uptight society.  The whole family just trying to cope.  The catalyst of not-Triss forces the whole family to drop the veneer and really try and figure out why they act the way they do and to re-evaluate their relationships with each other.  The fact that it was magical style creatures that brought this all to a head just made it all that much cooler :-)

Discovery - I think I have probably used this term at least 100 times in this post, but I felt that it was such a prevalent theme that I am going to talk about it some more.  This whole book was about people discovering things...which is such a refreshing change from the gotcha twists, long drawn out secrets and endless telling of some other books I have read.  We get to discover along with our characters pretty much everything.  We learned about Triss and how she came into being.  We learned about the Crescent family history.  We learned about the tragedy of Mr. Grace.  We learned about the Besiders and their story.  Every thing that was discovered added to the story and gave us another piece to the puzzle.  I love reading stories like this, they feel alive.

Besiders - The treatment of the Besiders was pretty spot on.  From reading about a zillion various books, stories and studies of the old school fey, I felt that these slightly scary guys were great.  The Besiders paralleled the humans in their need to change and adapt.  As the humans had to grow and cope with the war and progress, so did the Besiders if they wanted to survive.  I especially liked that while humans needed and craved stability and certainty, the Besiders are a mirror image, needing uncertainty and chaos to thrive.  These were also not little flitting faires and regal elves.  These were wild, varied and on occasion dangerous beings who were just looking to survive.  They were the perfect mirror to our human characters and were utilized wonderfully.

Overall Impression - I loved this book.  It was not originally what I thought it was going to be, but it turned out to be so much better.  I know many people were disappointed when the book turned out not to be full on horror...but this just goes to show you not to judge a book by it's cover...or short description...or blurb.  I am finding I really enjoy this author and her slightly skewed look on everyday life without going overboard to the flat out weird.  It is a fine line to walk and so far I feel she does it beautifully.   I give it 8 out of 10 unruly scissors and recommend it to anybody who wants an engrossing read, Victorian style fantasy and isn't afraid to ask some hard questions.  I will be reading more of this authors stuff.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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