Review: Cuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin

CuckooCuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Cuckoo is an Extreme Horror novel following a diverse cast of Queer characters trying to survive a Conversion Camp and its aftermath. Kicking off in 1995, this book gets in your face and stays there. Warning: there are no limits!

It’s guaranteed to make you uncomfortable, cringey, angry, and hurt for 99% of the time that you are reading it. If you’re not, you may want to check your pulse.

This is the kind of book that makes me wish I had a BookTube channel, because I could talk about this book for hours. It made me think a lot and really analyze everything that’s going on here.

Sadly, my patience for typing isn’t as robust as my patience for talking, so I promise, this won’t be too long. Most likely, you are wondering what this is all about. The cover doesn’t reveal too much and the title could mean anything.

Basically, this story starts in 1995, it introduces us to a group of characters, all Queer, who are forcibly sent to a Conversion Camp by their families.

The very beginning of the novel is interesting, because as you’re meeting the various characters it was delivered sort of via vignette style, which I’m not necessarily accustomed to. In a way, it made it feel like I was getting short stories for each of the major players.

Once they are all moved to the conversion camp, we then follow the various atrocities that occur there. Unsurprisingly, as the characters are being submitted to daily abuses, they begin to bond and form connections to one another.

Ultimately, a plan to break out is formed.

In Part II, we fast forward to where these teens are now adults, and they’re brought together once again to try to fight the old evil they were exposed to at the camp. What they’ve come to call, the cuckoo. They want to save the next generation of teens suffering like they did.

The story is much more complex than this basic synopsis lets on, but it is best to go in knowing as little as possible.

However, with this being said, I want to stress that this is an Extreme Horror novel. I feel this is a very important distinction for me to make, because I’m not sure the synopsis, or the way it’s currently being marketed, really makes that clear enough.

My concern for this book is that people are going to pick it up thinking it is a Queer Horror novel, which, yes, it is, but there is a very big difference between a mainstream Horror book and an Extreme Horror book.

I feel like people who have never read Extreme Horror before, or maybe aren’t aware that is even a subgenre, will pick this up and be traumatized for life.

I read this subgenre regularly, so nothing here surprised me, especially having read Felker-Martin before, I knew what I was getting myself into. I signed up knowingly, willingly and I really enjoyed the journey of this story.

I just want to throw out a friendly warning to anyone else who may not be so prepared. This is extreme, it’s graphic, both in a violent and sexual nature, and holds absolutely nothing back.

I wouldn’t say this is quite as Splatterpunk as Manhunt, and I actually enjoyed the trajectory of this story more than Manhunt, but this is still full of Felker-Martin’s signature style of extreme writing.

One small issue I had though was the pace. I felt like in the beginning, it read fairly slowly, and then by the end, it was progressing too quickly. The lead-up to the final events, I actually wish was more drawn out. While I appreciate the intensity built throughout, I actually would have preferred a more even pace.

Also, I really loved Part II, which followed the characters as adults, but it didn’t start until around 70%. I would have loved a more 50/50 split, between following them as teens, and then following them as adults.

Overall, I thought this was great. It was engaging and thought-provoking. I feel like as a piece of Extreme Horror Fiction, it was creative and very well-written.

I enjoyed this more than Manhunt, which was quite a memorable reading experience, and feel like Felker-Martin’s style is fine-tuning into something that is distinct in the subgenre. She is wildly-imaginative and not afraid to explore very difficult topics. She pulls no punches.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I will definitely be picking up whatever this author writes next!

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