Frances Hardinge is wonderful. I mean, this is only the second book of hers that I’ve read, but I think the woman’s a bloody genius. She has a knack for drawing you so completely into historical worlds filled with magic and mystery that you feel like you’re right there inside of it.
The Lie Tree is about Faith Sunderly, a teenage girl who dreams of being a natural scientist in a Victorian society that will not permit women to contribute to such important things as science. She and her family wind up on an island called Vane where her father – a reverend and an acclaimed scientist – will be taking part in an archaeological dig. Her father has been painted as a fraud after some of the fossils he discovered were found to be inauthentic, and rumours of his shamed status have reached the remote island. When he dies in suspicious circumstances, Faith vows to find out the truth about him and stumbles across his biggest secret yet – the Tree of Lies. The tree feeds on lies and provides truths in return, and Faith must use it to her advantage to get to the bottom of her father’s demise.
Faith is an incredibly smart and conniving protagonist. She’s driven by an urge to make her father proud and prove her intelligence, despite knowing full well that she should be meek and mild like other girls. She’s intensely likeable; she has a wild, fiery streak which is constantly yearning to be revealed, and it’s fun to see her demure facade crumble as she gets closer to unearthing the facts of her father’s death. She cares less and less about what she should or shouldn’t be in the eyes of men, and her growth and development throughout the story is brilliantly executed.
In contrast to Faith we have her mother, Myrtle, who is smart and conniving in a way that Faith despises. Myrtle acknowledges the way of the world – men at the top, women a step below – and does all she can to get ahead in these circumstances. She flirts, she exacerbates her vulnerabilities, and she makes the most of her womanly wiles to get what she needs. In Faith’s eyes her mother’s slippery behaviour is abhorrent – too cold and calculated – and I certainly found her an easy character to hate. However, as the book came to a close and Myrtle’s motivations became clear, I found myself really liking her ruthlessness, cleverness and determination to make the best of the hand she is given.
The Lie Tree is both historical fiction and fantasy, and I love the way that Hardinge combines the two genres. We get a really good feel for Victorian life, from the clothing and lifestyle right through to the religious, social and scientific beliefs of the time. The main element of fantasy comes in the form of the Tree of Lies which is a fascinating concept. When eaten, the fruit of the tree stimulates dreams which reveal truths or snippets of truth, and Faith’s fruit-induced dreams, which were sinister and whimsical, were some of my favourite parts of the book.
All in all, The Lie Tree is a darkly magical and gripping read with compelling and complex characters and some truly beautiful writing.Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com