The Lie Tree

The light glistened on slender, blue-black leaves, long thorns, dull golden pearls of sap glowing on black knobbed stems… and then before her eyes Faith saw the illuminated foliage flinch, wrinkle and subside, hissing with the angry sibilance of a beast disturbed.

Having read and loved Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, I was really keen to get my hands on her latest novel The Lie Tree. 

Set in a world of transition and uncertainty, as society tries to reconcile Darwin’s theories with the church of their forefathers, fourteen year old Faith feels lost amoungst the confusion. Exiled with her family to a remote island after a mysterious scandal, Faith would do anything to earn the love and respect of her Reverend and Natural Scientist father: but she’s a girl, and there’s no place for girls in a man’s world.
As lies explode and danger grows, Faith has to use all her resources to save her family, but very soon the lies threaten to swallow her whole.

I got a distinct The Picture of Dorian Grey and Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde feeling from this book as Hardinge works with themes of sin and the corruption of human nature. What happens if we give our selves over to lies and deceits? Even if they start out with good or “scientific” intentions, how long does it take for us to give over to our base instincts and become nothing more than animals?

People were animals, and animals were nothing but teeth. You bit first. And you bit often. That was the only way to survive.

Death and the devil stalk through this novel, deceit taking root and spreading through society like a weed. I really enjoyed watching Faith develop in this climate, her want to be respected and acknowledged growing to something darker as the story progresses. The reader can really feel the frustration of being a woman in this time, trivialized and overlooked in an age of men. And it’s really interesting to see how not only Faith, but the other women around her deal with this position and how they continue to fight in covert ways.

There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at the table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.

Relationships within the family is another large aspect of this book. We watch Faith struggle with a distant father, rage under the tutelage of a seemingly uncaring and unfeeling mother, and grow ever more suspicious of a tag-along uncle. She is used in different ways by each of them, a prop to their ambitions, all the while her own fears and uncertainties are reflected in her younger brother. A brother who will grow to take her place of importance and leave her as just another invisible woman.

This novel is populated with a rich variety of characters, accented with so many Victorian elements, that you can almost touch the texture of the tapestry Hardinge weaves. The science, the obsession with death, the advancement in technology is all there wrapped in the distinct superstitions of the time. A time period that I am particularly fond of. And at the heart of it all grows the Lie Tree, feeding off the corruption of a small island thrown into chaos. Although this story often wanders into the fantastical, it is very much grounded in the real and both sides play off each other well.

My only qualm would be that this story took a little while to get off the ground, but once the pace picks up there’s no stopping it.

I want to give this a five out of five, but can I do that when I enjoyed Cuckoo Song more? Sure, why not!

5 out of 5 stars

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