Clio steps through the open workshop door to the house. She‘s glad the spare sheepskins are stacked by a stool downstairs; she doesn’t want Mika to see her awkwardness in climbing the ladder to the upstairs sleeping room.
“Mika fell in crossing the river to help fix the barrier,” she explains.
“And you?” asks her mother.
“I pulled her out.”
“Goddess be thanked you didn’t both drown,” says Selena.
Mika is clinging tight to Clio’s free hand. She doesn’t let go till Selena’s wrapped her snugly in a sheepskin cloak.
“Thank you,” says the girl. Looking up, she sees the house shrine and the small painted priestess with the outstretched arms.
“Is that a goddess?”
“A priestess to serve her,” Clio explains. “She’ll be given to the goddess at the spring festival of the full moon.”
Mika’s eyes go round as a frog’s.
“My grandmother made her to go to the underworld in my place-instead of a maiden.”
Wendy Orr’s Cuckoo’s Flight is the final installment in a trilogy that included the award-winning Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Set in Crete during the Bronze Age, Cuckoo’s Flight can be saved for last or read as a stand-alone story. The story features Clio, daughter of Selena and Hector, granddaughter of Leira, and aunt to little Matti whose mother had passed away. Clio is “lame” from a riding incident and uses a crutch, but she is a productive worker in her family’s pottery business.
While looking out to sea one afternoon, Clio spies an enemy ship close to shore and alerts the town. The raiders from the nearby towns are back and are no longer satisfied with pillaging. This time they want land. At the dawn ceremony, the town’s spiritual leader, Lady, announces that the gods will once again require a sacrifice at the spring festival, a girl between 12 and 14 years age, just as Grandmother Leira’s first born daughter was sacrificed years earlier. “Clio thinks the gods are like horses: you never know what they are going to do, but the more treats you offer them, the more likely they are to care for you.”
In an effort to save Clio from the same fate, Leira crafts four clay statues for sacrifice instead and then dies the following day. Clio and her mother guard the statues, awaiting word of whether they will be accepted in lieu of a girl. Meanwhile, Clio befriends Mika, a young girl “fisher” from a neighbouring raider town. While the townspeople are engrossed in building a wall to protect themselves, Clio teaches Mika how to handle horses and herd the goats in the fields. They form a bond despite Clio’s accurate suspicion that Mika’s abusive brother, Dymos, is a raider and is intent on stealing the horses.
A week before the festival, the Lady preselects a girl for the sacrifice, Clio’s “heart friend” Delia. Clio is bereft. Clio hears her grandmother Leira’s voice in her head and makes mental promises that, if the gods will accept the statue instead of a girl, then Clio will dedicate her life to honing the family pottery craft. Unfortunately, Dymos steals the statue from Clio’s house and she and Mika have to track him down and remind Dymos that Leira came from the same background as his and Mika’s family. He hands over the statue, allowing Clio and Mika to deliver it to the Lady.
As the story comes to a climax, the girls give the statue to the Lady at the festival, and it is accepted, sparing Delia. At the same time, pirate ships arrive, Hector returns, and the neighbouring town of Moklos is sieged by pirates. The redeemed Dymos warns of an imminent land attack, and it falls to Mika and Clio to drive the Lady around the town in Clio’s chariot to fetch the chiefs who were helping in Moklos and to ultimately fight in the battle for their town. Clio follows Leira’s voice and convinces the Lady to free the “purple” slaves in their town in reward for helping with the battle. As a result, the tides turn, and a lasting peaceful truce is called.
Cuckoo’s Flight is an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat, epic tale while still incorporating the beautiful poetry of Orr’s first two books. Clio is a unique heroine fighting physical and emotional challenges, and proving that perseverance, bravery and ingenuity will always save the day. While this book demonstrates that girls are just as capable as boys (even in Bronze Age Greece!), the historical setting, and suspenseful drama will hook all readers, both young and old. Orr has done it again, and fans of Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance will be pleased with how this final book wraps up the series.
Cate Carlyle, an author, librarian and former elementary teacher, currently resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia.