The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children's Books, 7 May 2015)
I'd been meaning to read a book by Frances Hardinge for a while now, and when I saw that she had a new book coming out and it was available for review on Netgalley, I had to request it! And I'm so glad I did. If all of Hardinge's books are amazing as this one then I am definitely going to have to read all of them!
THE LIE TREE is set in the Victorian period, several years after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Faith Sunderley's father is a disgraced natural scientist, whose reputation has been ruined after the news comes out that his fossil finds were fakes. He moves his whole family to the island of Vane, just off the coast of England, to escape from the scandal for a while and to assist with an excavation there. When he is found dead, everyone thinks it's a suicide – but Faith suspects differently. Armed with her father's journal and his secrets about the Tree of Lies, Faith sets about trying to discover the truth about her father's death.
Hardinge's prose is evocative and atmospheric and I loved the setting of the book – Victorian, small island community. Everything felt a little claustrophobic and it was the perfect backdrop for this wonderfully feminist story of a girl who feels trapped by the limits of her own gender but who learns that no woman is ever truly only what society expects her to be.
I have to say that even though it's stated in the blurb that her father is murdered and therefore that's definitely not a considered a spoiler, this doesn't actually happen till quite a way into the book, so for a while, I just kept thinking, "Come on, isn't her father going to get murdered soon?" As a result the pacing seemed a little off, because usually when something that big is mentioned in the blurb, I expect it to happen sooner rather than later in the book.
The book does gain a lot of momentum after the murder happens, though. The mystery was a really satisfying one, and I was in awe of the premise. How did Hardinge come up with such a brilliant idea as the lie tree? If you whisper lies to it, it will bear fruit that gives you hidden secrets when you eat them. The bigger the lie, the more it is believed by other people, the greater the secret revealed. The setting was very much grounded in reality but in the midst of it all there was this inexplicable, fantastical mystery that was the Lie Tree.
I absolutely loved Faith's character. She's really clever and inquisitive, but as a girl in the Victorian age, she has to be silent and demure and a good girl. But she reads her father's books and she's as fascinated by fossils and excavations as any natural scientist. She sneaks around at night and she's always trying to find out things that a girl like her shouldn't know anything about, and after her father's death, she transforms into something powerfully, darkly beautiful, taking that cleverness in her and wielding it like a weapon on her journey to discovering her father's killer. It was amazing to watch.
What I loved about THE LIE TREE was that it was a tale about women in general. All women, and not just Faith. As Faith entangles herself in the mystery of her father's death, she realises that other women too struggle with the same things that she does. The women of the Victorian age, all invisible, hidden and deemed less intelligent, less useful to society than their husbands and their fathers and their brothers. I loved that this was a story about how all women were unique individuals in their own ways, with their own stories and voices. And the message of the book is still so relevant today:
Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies.
These two sentences pretty much sum up the book. "Not like other girls" is stupid and meaningless, because every woman is different – every person is different, and that's something we should appreciate.
If you haven't read any Hardinge before, you really must try her books. And if you have, you probably already know how amazing she is. If you want an dark, intriguing mystery with an inspiring female character who undergoes stunning character development, definitely pick this up when it comes out on May 7th!