Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.
In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.
I don’t know really what I was expecting from this book, as I hadn’t read the synopsis. It was a complete cover buy in a charity shop, and I was lured in by the ominous title. However, I ended up really, truly enjoying this story.
The writing in The Lie Tree really is what makes it. The tone and the atmosphere created by Hardinge’s effortless descriptions is what stood out most in the book, and in my opinion, makes it so unique. Set on the bleak coast of the island of Vane in the Victorian era, the writing really does conjure imagery of the biting cold and grey skies and unforgiving seas. The setting and tone always felt consistent and loomed over the events of the story, adding a whole new dimension of tension.
It also felt quite wordy for a middle-grade book, so if you’re giving this to a younger reader, equip them with a dictionary or be prepared to be questioned!
The idea driving this narrative – The Lie Tree – is also another completely unique element, or at least one I’ve never come across.
A lie was like a fie, Faith was discovering. At first it needed to be nursed and fed, but carefully and gently. A slight breath would fan the new-born flames, but too vigorous a huff would blow it out. Some lies took hold and spread, crackling with excitement, and no longer needed to be fed. But then these were no longer your lies. They had a life and shape of their own, and there was no controlling them.
It really was fascinating watching the plot unfold and what Hardinge did with it. I think with such a cool idea that it could have easily fallen short with the execution, but I finished the book feeling satisfied overall.
While I loved the feminist theme of Faith wanting to delve into science and breaking away from Victorian society’s views of women, I just wish it had been more intersectional, e.g. race or class. Especially in a setting in which Faith’s family has servants, I think there was definitely opportunity for Faith’s privilege to be discussed.
The ableism present in this book also made it impossible for me to give it 5 stars. The book describes ill and disabled characters as ‘invalids’, which is never okay and really hindered my enjoyment of the book.
Have you read The Lie Tree? Let me know in a comment and we can chat!
Until the next one,