The Cuckoo is the third installment in the Under the Northern Sky trilogy from writer Leo Carew. His first two books in the series The Wolf and The Spider were released to a great deal of both critical and reader acclaim. He has been called the next George R.R. Martin by some and fans have been eagerly awaiting The Cuckoo. It will finally release on December 6th 2022 it will finally be released and they can indulge in the final, thrilling act of Under the Northern Sky.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Orbit for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Cuckoo contains some spoilers!]
A little background on Under the Northern Sky
As mentioned above, The Cuckoo is the third book in Carew’s Under the Northern Sky series. As per my typical disclaimer, I don’t recommend reading it unless you have read the first two. The series is meant to be one large story broken into manageable sections and you will be very lost if you don’t read the first two. Currently, homo sapiens are the only civilized (arguably) species on Earth but for most of our development, we’ve lived alongside other humanoid races. Under the Northern Sky is set in a world where multiple humanoid races have all thrived and set up separate societies.
The Anakim live in the Black Kingdom to the north. They are a very long-lived race, measuring life in centuries, and are much larger in stature than the humans who inhabit the Suthdal in the south. There are also the Unhieru who live in the kingdom of Unhierea to the west. The Unhieru are a race of true giants, even larger than the Anakim. They are wilder than the other two races and wish for neither wealth nor fame, only land and revenge speak to them. These three races live in their separate kingdoms and have little to do with each other normally. There are no alliances between them as they don’t trust each other, but there is an uneasy truce based on mutual self-interest and peace has reigned for a long time.
The action begins
The Wolf is the first book of the series and it sees the peace between them thrown into complete upset. The humans in Suthdal march into the Black Kingdom and declare war. The Anakim’s veteran king is killed and his young son, Roper, steps into his father’s shoes. Determined to prove himself he hits back against the Sutherners and chases them out of the Black Kingdom. His actions and valor cement his place on the throne.
In the second book of the Under the Northern Sky series, The Spider, Roper realizes that the Sutherners will always be a threat to the Black Kingdom. He turns the tables from the last book and invades Suthdal. However, after the battles in The Wolf, his army is significantly weakened. Roper decides to enter into an alliance with the Unhieru, the savage race of giants to the west of Suthdal. Together he believes they can crush the Sutherners. But the Sutherners are not all played out. Bellamus, the instigator of the Suthern invasion in The Wolf has some well-placed spies within the Anakim forces that help him stay one step ahead of their plots.
A thrilling conclusion to the trilogy in The Cuckoo
The Cuckoo picks up right where The Spider left off. Roper has utterly decimated the Suthern capital of Lundenceaster. The war is all but won and Roper wants to claim the surrender of the surrounding towns and begin occupying the country, bending it to Anakim’s will. There is still some resistance in the west of the country but he manipulates the Unhieru into mopping the mess up for him, saving himself valuable time and troops.
But not everyone wants Roper to remain in Suthdal. The Kryptea, a group that balances the Black Lord’s power in the Anakim kingdom, wants Roper and his troops to return to the Black Kingdom and leave the kingdom of Suthdal to itself. Roper resents the check to his power but he is a shrewd tactician and uses the power of the people to back his position and continue his conquest of Suthdal. This angers the Kryptea so much that they turn to unlikely alliances to reign in the young leader and return power to themselves.
Part of this plan is accomplished by taking the known traitor Vigtyr and sending him to his Suthdal contacts with information about Roper’s plan. The Kryptea hope that if the Suthdal can mount a strong enough resistance, they’ll be able to run Roper’s weakened forces out of Suthdal and he’ll be forced to return home.
The flaw in their plan is that the Suthdal forces are extremely weakened too. Even with the warning, it is doubtful that they will be able to defeat the Unhieru army. Running Roper out of the country seems even more out of reach. But Bellamus is still with the Suthdal Queen and is a military genius who credits his defeat to the weather more than to Roper. With a little luck and a little planning, he just might be able to pull off a miracle. Will it be enough against Roper’s bloodlust? Only the epilogue knows.
The Cuckoo is a long but surprisingly quick read
When I first saw The Cuckoo I was a little put off by the size. I may have groaned. Fantasy books that center around war and are that thick tend to be boring. But I was pleasantly surprised by The Cuckoo. Carew avoids the common pitfall of listing lord after lord, their credentials, and their troop sizes (a fantasy form of a pissing contest if you ask me). Instead, he focuses on key characters and their actions. He moves the story by following the action instead of getting bogged down in lengthy descriptions of battles.
His style was a very nice change of pace from other fantasies and I loved it. Carew is so good at moving the story that I found myself over 100 pages in before I even realized it. So even though it is a long novel it didn’t take me a lot of time to read it and it was all enjoyed time. I was never skipping pages because I just wanted to get to the next part (which I admit to sometimes doing in other war books).
Now if there is one pitfall it is that there isn’t a lot of female representation in Carew’s book. This is an unfortunate problem throughout historical fantasy. Some recent books have been working to correct this and give women equal footing with men. But Carew doesn’t quite achieve this. There are some women and they have some power but the vast majority of the story is moved by men and their actions.
Despite this common drawback, I still really enjoyed the story and think that the pros vastly outweigh the cons in The Cuckoo. Anyone looking for a good fantasy, look no further. Of course, I don’t recommend diving in without reading The Wolf and The Spider first but who can complain about having three good books to read?
My Rating: 8/10
The Cuckoo: A Under the Northern Sky Novel by Leo Carew is available now! Do you plan on reading it? Let us know over on Twitter or The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our latest Orbit Book review, The Empire of Exiles!
Book Review: Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans