The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2016 by Amulet Books.
Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is modest and well mannered—a proper young lady who knows her place. But inside, Faith is burning with questions and curiosity. She keeps sharp watch of her surroundings and, therefore, knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing—like the real reason her family fled Kent to the close-knit island of Vane. And that her father’s death was no accident. In pursuit of revenge and justice for the father she idolizes, Faith hunts through his possessions, where she discovers a strange tree. A tree that bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit in turn, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder. Or, it might lure the murderer directly to Faith herself, for lies—like fires, wild and crackling—quickly take on a life of their own.
I love Frances Hardinge, but her books are so strange that I’m caught between “this is great” and “this is weird and I can’t really get into it.” That’s exactly how I felt reading The Lie Tree, which takes a simple setting (Victorian England) and gives it a supernatural twist with the concept of a lie tree, which basically gives you truths if you feed it lies. Or something like that.
I will briefly express my displeasure at Hardinge for getting many religious facts wrong, such as the entire concept of the Nephilim and other cliché representations, but at least she is somewhat open-minded and doesn’t paint one group or the other with too thick of a brush. And, granted, since the book takes place in the Victorian era she does do well occasionally with representing the thought process at the time, although, again, it’s incredibly clichéd and stereotypical most of the time.
So, yes, The Lie Tree is strange, and I’m so sick of “women can’t do anything so protagonist sets out to Do Something” novels, but it was still pretty good. Hardinge is a great writer, and the strange parts had a sort of attraction to them even as they repelled me. The villain, while not terribly obvious at first, is almost too obvious once revealed, as in my reaction was something like “oh, of course that’s who it is. Why would it be anyone else?” But the book was engaging and typical Hardinge, and it certainly didn’t put me off from reading any more of her works. I liked Faith well enough and overall, I enjoyed the book as a whole.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Supernatural, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Faith opened her mouth to apologize, but the words died in her mouth. Her father’s posture, always ramrod-straight, was now oddly slumped. She had never seen his face so pale, so slack. Her skin tingled.
There was a clammy smell in the room, she realized, the cold scent she had noticed in the Folly. Now it ran little ice-fingers down her throat, through the nerves of her teeth, and across the backs of her eyes. The air was alive with it.