The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
|The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
|Summary: A mysterious death, and a bizarre tree that seems to feed on lies: it will take all Faith's courage and intelligence to discover the truth behind the curious events on the island of Vane, and what, or who, killed her beloved father.
|Date: May 2015
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's
|External links: Author's website
Shortlisted for the 2016 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2015
Winner: Costa Children's Book Award 2015
Winner: Costa Book Awards 2015
Fans of Frances Hardinge will be familiar with the eerie, unreal atmosphere of her books. Mysteries lurk in the shadows, perplexing and sometimes menacing her characters, and the strange and the banal jostle each other for space on the page. A world both familiar and outlandish is offered to us, where once again a fallible but endearing heroine battles forces which threaten to overwhelm her at every turn.
The reader is given no quarter: the concepts are complex, the clues subtle, and many an apparent ally turns out to be something quite, quite different. For these reasons, even though the heroine is still, by modern standards, a young girl, the book will best be enjoyed by teens and young adults. It is set in Victorian Britain, and all through the book the clash between men of faith and the new thinking about evolution introduced by Darwin and his fellow scholars dominates the story. This is rendered even more acute by the fact that many of those men who travel the world seeking fossils and rare plants are clergymen themselves – men who have sufficient education and leisure to indulge such pursuits.
And the emphasis is most decidedly on the word men. The mid-Victorian era, described by those who lived through it as a golden age of scientific and technical progress, still fiercely clung to the fiction that only a man's brain could encompass the new thinking: women's brains, being smaller, should concern themselves with fidelity to the Bible, obedience to their husbands and the care of their households and family. But Faith does not fit the mould. She has inherited her father's sharp intelligence and she dreams of pleasing him by participating, however humbly, in his great work. He, however, sees her as nothing but a liability, an unnecessary expense in his home and a sad substitute for the five sons he has lost. At every turn the remaining boy, Howard, is favoured and petted while she lurks, unseen and unwanted, on the fringes of family life.
Such treatment teaches her to sneak and pry and eavesdrop, and although she reproaches herself constantly for her failings, as a good and dutiful daughter should, it is precisely this ability which comes to her aid when her father is found dead. Faith is alone in believing he has been murdered, and she has very little time to prove it before the formal inquest: if his death is ruled a suicide the Reverend Sunderly will be buried at a crossroads with a stake through his heart. Worse still, every penny of his estate will be confiscated, and the family left destitute.
It would ruin the story to reveal much more of the plot, but quick-thinking Faith, apparently powerless and voiceless in this male-dominated world, finds in herself a talent for manipulating others to achieve her ends through hints and innuendos. She runs terrible risks to harness the astonishing power of the Lie Tree, and the result is a story which combines action and some heart-thumping moments with situations which will leave readers with plenty to think about once the book is closed. Yet another excellent example of Ms Hardinge's prodigious talent!
The same eerie and disquieting atmosphere can be found in another of Ms Hardinge's books, A Face Like Glass, and readers may also enjoy the skilful world-building and curious adventures in Neversuch House by Elliott Skell.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge is in the Top Ten Books for Teens 2015.
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