“The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth.”
Faith and her family, headed by her world-renowned naturalist father, are en route to a suitably mysterious and dreary island to purpotedly oversee an excavation, but in reality they are fleeing their home of Devon in order to weather out an (as of yet) unnamed scandal. Faith wants nothing more than to earn the notice and esteem of her father; a budding naturalist herself, she looks upon him as a sort of god of fossil discovery. When her beloved father winds up dead and draped over a cliffside tree, Faith knows in her gut that neither a careless accident nor suicide claimed his life; she believes his death to be murder, and she suspects that murder to be connected to a tree that her father was studying. A tree whose fruit contains the secrets to hidden knowledge. A tree that can only produce fruit when it is fed lies. Desperate to prove that her father didn’t commit suicide, Faith begins her campaign to learn the truth of her father’s death, one lie at a time.
I fell in love with Frances Hardinge‘s writing when I read Cuckoo Song last year; it’s a deliciously creepy and weird story made stronger by Hardinge’s stunning use of figurative language, deep and dark and full of truth in all its fantastical twists. Whenever I love a book by a new-to-me author that much, I often approach my second taste of their writing with equal parts anticipation and trepidation, because what if that first book that got me all antsy in my pantsy was just a fluke? Well, never fear, dear readers, because The Lie Tree is balls to the wall awesome.
Now, from the synopsis it probably seems pretty obvious that Frances Hardinge is ace when it comes to creativity, but just in case I didn’t get my point across, I’ll reiterate it here: her ideas are some of the most original and sharply realized in middle grade fantasy being written today. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say she’s one of the best writers of the fantastic out there, full stop. While The Lie Tree didn’t quite have the dizzyingly complex fantasy world that made Cuckoo Song so captivating, the mythology of the Lie Tree and the symbiotic relationship it develops with Faith has just as much depth, just as much poetry, just as much magical exploration of nasty inner truths.
Now, even though Hardinge’s writing is formidable and her story achingly, intricately beautiful, it was her examination of the position of women in nineteenth century society that blew my underpants right off my butt. I won’t go so far as to say that she said anything new about the subject, but the way in which the insidiousness of misogyny was woven into the mystery was fucking flawless. Bravo, Frances Hardinge. Bravo.
The only weaknesses I could detect with my eagle eye were fairly minor. It took a hefty sum of pages to get to the meat of the narrative, which I didn’t mind, but I think some less patient young readers might be balked by the relatively slow pace. I also didn’t feel a tremendous amount of personal connection with Faith, and so the dangerous plot pivots (and there were many!) didn’t quite tug at my heart quite as strongly as they could have. Still, these are minor quibbles when it’s all said and done.
For music, let’s do Witch’s “Seer,” because stoner metal about prognostication seems juuuuuust right.