The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge


Back in January, Frances Hardinge became only the second children’s author to win the Costa Book Award. Her wonderful mystery novel, The Lie Tree, claimed the overall prize alongside its success in the children’s category. The premise of the story intrigued me and the more I heard about this book, the more I wanted to read it!

“Listen, Faith. A girl cannot be brave, or clever, or skilled as a boy can. If she is not good, she is nothing. Do you understand?”

The Lie Tree tells the tale fourteen-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family and the novel opens with the family travelling to the island of Vane. Faith’s father Erasmus, who she idolises, is to take part in an archaeological dig on Vane but it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. There are whispers, rumours and scandal surrounding the authenticity of her father’s work. It seems that on the island of Vane the Sunderly family may not be as welcome as they first thought. In a shocking turn of events the family are hit with the tragic death of Erasmus in mysterious circumstances. Faith, determined to untangle the truth, turns detective, to find out what really happened to her father.

‘If the tree could deliver secrets, then perhaps it would unravel for her the mystery of her father’s death.’

Amongst his belongings, Faith uncovers details of a strange tree, The Lie Tree. The tree promises to reveal hidden secrets and Faith learns to feed the tree lies in order to get to them. These little lies slowly grow and spiral out of control, revealing the unexpected. This is a wonderfully written story with an atmospheric setting. It has a gothic air to it and there was a sense of mystery and unease throughout as we try to unravel the secrets surrounding the Sunderly family and the inhabitants of Vane. There is a fascinating cast of characters and not all of them are what they seem. This made for a gripping read as we await the revelations that Faith’s discovery brings. I particularly enjoyed Hardinge’s portrayal of the Victorian era and there was excellent attention to detail with regard to the attitudes, fashions and curiosities of the time.

‘People were animals, and animals were nothing but teeth’

What I loved most about the novel was Faith, and what she represents. The story is set in an era where women were undervalued and considered to have a very limited role in society. It is brilliant to see Faith challenge society’s perceptions as she aspires to pursue the natural sciences, just like her father. This also challenges Faith’s bond with her mother Myrtle who is very traditional in her views and uses her appearance to her advantage. This is very much a novel that tackles gender roles and conformity through one remarkable teenage girl who is finding her place in the world.

 ‘…you only had to provide part of a lie. You could rely on other people’s imaginations to fill the gaps’

The Lie Tree is a wonderful book that offers so much. It is historical, fantastical, mysterious and surprising. It deals with love, loss and family and the secrets that surround them. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it is sure to enthral readers young and old.

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