Book Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree Review

Let your lies bear truthful fruit

The Lie TreeHere is my review of the Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.

  • Title: The Lie Tree
  • Author: Frances Hardinge
  • Genre: Fantasy

[This review contains minor spoilers – sections are marked]

Summary

The Sunderly family move to the Island of Vane. According to Faith’s father, the family were uprooted and moved to this far-flung place for the sake of his work as a naturalist. But Faith’s mother and uncle are acting strangely: there’s talk of a scandal. Faith is quiet and obedient, so she doesn’t ask questions or step out of line – yet secretly, she yearns to become a woman of science in a society that does not suffer ambitious women.

When her father dies under mysterious circumstances, Faith questions while others accept. She seeks answers in her father’s possessions and finds a mystical tree. It feeds on lies. The more widespread the lie, the greater the truth revealed by eating its fruit. How far will she go to learn the truth? Can she prove that her father – a man of god and science – did not, in fact, take his own life.

Opinion

This is a powerful tale of magic, science, faith, and gender. No only does Hardinge illustrate a world where natural science meets myth and magic, she shows us a world where those without power will go to great lengths to secure it. These elements of gender politics beat strongly at the heart of the story – especially when you realise that the solution to the mystery was obscured by our own preconceived notions of gender and class.

This was a joy to read!

Cons

[Spoilers]

While there are no inherent flaws in the novel, this is one of two Hardinge novels* where the mystical element is utterly destroyed during the climax. While one cannot say that two instances equal a trend, it is fair to say that I saw the burning of the lie tree as an inevitability.

Other than the destructive ending, the novel has no other unsatisfactory elements and is well worth your time.

[End of Spoilers]

*I’ve only read The Lie Tree and A Skinful of Shadows.

Potentially Offensive Content

Like with La Belle Sauvage, this novel may contain elements that potentially offends religious readers. Religion is a central theme of the novel with evolution and creationism clearly placed at odds. The latter is framed as “a lie that everyone wanted to believe”.

Other than this, there is nothing of note. This is a children’s novel, after all.

Pros

The prose is clear and flowing, employing voice that matches the setting. The latter does not make it as hard to read as one might expect a Victorian voice to produce.

The novel is a joy to read. There is a pleasurable unfolding as the mysteries are gradually revealed: we discover the truth of the lie tree along side Faith. By means of cryptic visions (this isn’t a cheap gimmick, trust me), and a steady flow of clues, we discover the identity of the murderer.

A good murder mystery stands up to a second reading. In other words, when you read it and you know the secrets, you realise that the answer was there all along. A mystery that withholds a glaring piece of evidence until the climax cheats. The Lie Tree does not do this.

Agatha Christie fans – young and old – will enjoy this novel. I certainly did!

Hidden Meanings

In my opinion, Hardinge made an inspired choice to create a parallelism between creationism and the station of the female in society. Both are “comfortable” ways of ordering the universe by placing the human male at the top of the hierarchy – secondly only to a creator.

[More Spoilers]

This is illustrated in the novel in the relationship between Faith and her father; and the answers her father sought and the truth he uncovered. He hoped that the tree would definitively answer the question: did we evolve, or were we created?

For a fruit to give you the answer you want, your lie needs to be related to the question in some way. To this effect, her father forged an angel fossil and declared it proof of divine beings. This lie was that was easily believed and spread. The answer revealed by the fruit’s vision did not satisfy. He loses his faith. (Note the protagonist’s name?)

Similarly, Faith’s most cherished memory with her father is where she found her first fossil on the beach. She later learns that what she found was fabricated as well, and that her father used her innocence to cover this falsehood.

There are many instances of where the battle between faith and science are placed in parallel with the battle of patriarchy and feminism (or at least “heterogeneity”).

[End of Spoilers]

Final Score:         8/10

Excerpt

‘Forgive me for imagining that your civility would be the equal of your intellect. The way rumour is spreading, Reverend, I would have thought that you would be glad to find a fellow man of science who is still willing to shake you by the hand.’

Remembering those words, Faith’s blood ran cold again. She had never dreamed that she would see her father insulted to his face. Worse still, the Reverend had turned away from the stranger in furious silence, without demanding an explanation. The chill haze of Faith’s suspicions began to crystallize. There were rumours abroad, and her father knew what they were, even if she did not.

Top Image Source: Balleymena Today

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