Triss knows that something is wrong. She doesn’t remember falling into the river. She only remembers waking up, soaking wet, and being cared for by her overly-concerned parents. Her sister seems to hate and fear her, Triss’s stomach is screaming for food no matter how much she eats, her hair is rustling like dead leaves in her ears, and she’s suddenly terrified of scissors. Her parents speak in whispers about a mysterious man, a bargain, and letters that come from nowhere. Something is wrong, deep secrets, and Triss’s curiosity leads her down paths she’d rather have left alone.
Oh. My. This book was delightful, all atmospheric and creepy and dark. Hardinge has the most incredible imagination, and she takes fantasy and horror to new and interesting places. Amidst all the dreamlike imagery and unexpected turns in this story, Hardinge also works in themes of family, grief, and post-WWI culture shock across Britain, as well as what it means to be “real.”
I’m so incredibly grateful to have seen my book-friend April post about this one on Instagram, because honestly, I’d kinda given up on Hardinge. I adored A Face Like Glass in 2017. It remains one of my favorite books of the last decade. But since then, I read The Lie Tree (just okay) and abandoned two others, A Skinful of Shadows and Deeplight. I thought maybe Hardinge was just a one-hit author for me. Now, I believes she writes in many different atmospheric tones, and so some appeal to me while others don’t. This one is definitely in the “love” category, and is by far my favorite book of 2021 so far.
That is a really terrifying cover, and I’m glad mine is different because I may not have read it otherwise! I loved, loved, loved Triss and Cukoo Song! I have about the same mileage as you when it comes to Frances Hardinge: she’s a brilliant writer, but I don’t enjoy all her themes and stories equally. You should definitely try The Lost Conspiracy (also published as Gullstruck Island).
I feel like she’s just a really diverse writer in terms of topic and style, and so different books will appeal to different people. I’ll check out The Lost Conspiracy, though I don’t read a lot of middle-grade fiction so it might not work for me. You never know – some people write brilliant middle-grade!