Cloud Cuckoo

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Never Dawn. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Cloud Cuckoo was written by R.E. Palmer and first published in 2016. It is the second novel of The Never Dawn series and falls between The Never Dawn (2016) and The Gates of Dawn (2017). As the book carries on directly where its prequel left off, you really need to read them in sequence to have any idea of what is going on.

When Noah wakes up after his night of exploration with Rebekah, he immediately knows that something is wrong. Mother must have done something to his memories as he can hardly remember what he saw. Stranger still, he seems to have missed a day in which all of his fellow workers were rewarded with a great celebration, yet all of them seem to believe that he was present for it.

When Mother immediately summons them to the square, Noah starts to feel worried. It seems that the prefects have not discovered Moses’s journal and now everyone must be punished. As Mother ushers them into the previously unseen lower levels, the Purges begin. Anyone who steps out of line – or is implicated by their fellows – is dragged away to the Trench, never to be seen again.

As Noah tries to remain inconspicuous, he realises that his days may be numbered. The stress of the Purge is pushing him close to breaking point and, even though his memories are still muddled, it’s clear that Barnabas is suspicious of him. If he does not think of something quickly, the entire rebellion could be in great danger…

I seem to be saying this a lot lately but, before I begin, I just have a quick word of warning. While Cloud Cuckoo is not graphic by any means, it does contain some material that may upset certain readers. While I can assure you that there is no actual violence against women depicted in this story, the threat of rape is used on several occasions. If you are sensitive to such things, you may want to give this novel a miss.

If you read my review of The Never Dawn earlier this year, you may remember that I was quite taken by it. While the novel was a bit repetitive in places, it was an intriguing story that built to a pretty amazing twist. Unfortunately, I felt that Cloud Cuckoo was a little less fresh. As with a lot of trilogies, it suffered pretty badly from middle novel syndrome, making it feel as though it was unnecessarily padding out the series.

The implications of the end of The Never Dawn are huge. While it was obvious that Mother was lying to some degree, the things that Noah and Rebekah discover on the upper decks were completely game changing. However, due to Noah’s sudden amnesia at the beginning of this story, the implications of his discovery barely had any impact on Cloud Cuckoo at all. In fact, Noah doesn’t even get a chance to confront Mother about what he saw until over two thirds of the way through this story. For me, this just felt like a wasted opportunity. It seemed as though the author realised that he had revealed too much too quickly, and was now desperately trying to slow down the pace.

However, this is not to say that nothing happens within the story. The opening chapters, in which Mother finally initiates the Purge, is quite terrifying. As with the previous instalment, the thing that makes this series the most frightening is Noah’s narrative. It’s rare for a dystopian novel to focus on someone who is so deeply brainwashed by the system. While Noah has started to break free of his programming, his is a small rebellion and he is finding it hard to dismiss Mother’s lies.

Mother’s language is the language of oppression, hiding the true implications of her actions behind a veil of niceties. While the workers are aware of the concept of death, she has never allowed them to witness it and thus none of them can comprehend precisely what the Purge entails. This is the thing that I found most unsettling about the story – the way in which people can be convinced to turn a blind eye to terrible things because they have been raised to believe that Mother knows best. It’s horrifying but, at the same time, wholly believable.

While the story does have a couple of twists up its sleeves, I didn’t think that anything about it was quite as surprising as those of The Never Dawn. While the biggest reveal – the true identity of Mother – was decent, I must admit that I felt that it was a bit too well signposted and so I actually figured this out quite early in the story. The book also didn’t provide answers to all of the questions that The Never Dawn left hanging. The nature of Paradise and what Mother really does with all of those who have been Purged are both still left open and I really do hope that we find these things out in the concluding instalment.

My biggest issue with this novel was the characters. Noah’s development in this Cloud Cuckoo was to the rhythm of two steps forward and one step back. This was a big disappointment as his growth in The Never Dawn was steady and believable. Yet the early events of this story have him forgetting what he learned, being “re-educated” back to his compliant persona, and then learning to resent Mother once again. This made it feel as though all of his previous experiences were wasted. What is the point in growing stronger if you’re immediately cast back to square one again?

More frustrating still was the lack of female characters in the story. I expressed disappointment in the development that Rebekah received in The Never Dawn, but this novel was a stage worse again. Rebekah barely appears on page as she and Noah are separated early in the tale. While she is out of sight, we do get frequent updates about her from Jared, who constantly tells Noah about how he has been sexually abusing her.

For me, this was almost unreadable. I haven’t had to bring up this bugbear of mine for a while but I hate it when novels portray rape as “the bad thing that happens to women”. It just sets my teeth on edge. Rape should never be used for shock value, or to give character development to someone who has not actually been affected by it. The use of rape in this story was not in anyway intended to build into Rebekah’s character. It was simply used a way to rile up the male protagonist. If I hadn’t been reading this novel for the purpose of review, this would have really put me off continuing with the story.

So, in all, Cloud Cuckoo was unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag. While I am still curious to see where it is going, I didn’t think it was anywhere near as strong as The Never Dawn and the lack of character development was disheartening. Still, with one more book to go, I have high hopes that the series can turn itself around. I will certainly be returning to Palmer’s work to find out in a future review.

Cloud Cuckoo can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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