Wednesday 27 January 2016

Review by Mary Mayfield of "The Lie Tree" by Frances Hardinge

(This review was first published on Our Book Reviews Online here). 

When Faith Sunderly's father moves his family to the island of Vane, he gives out that the reason is to help in some ongoing excavations - he is after all a renowned natural scientist and an expert on fossils - but he's actually running from a scandal about to break over his faking of finds. The island feels dark and sinister to begin with and Faith's father's strange behaviour adds to the air of secrecy and menace. 

Among his collection of prized specimens, all carefully transported to their new home, is a very curious plant which he's taking extra care of - it feeds on lies and having grown bears a fruit that imparts special knowledge and understanding on its eater. Within a few days of the family's arrival, the whole island is aware of the allegations against Faith's father, so when his dead body is found in strange circumstances the obvious assumption is that he committed suicide to avoid disgrace - Faith though believes he was murdered and sets out to prove it and track down the murderer. To this end she begins to feed the Lie Tree with untruths, but to get more information out of it she must invent bigger, more preposterous lies and spread them far and wide throughout the island community....

How to start to describe The Lie Tree? It's a murder mystery, with gothic horror overtones, a morality tale, historical fiction..  it's very difficult to pin down! The important thing is that it's an excellent read. It's darkly atmospheric, filled with quietly brooding menace, with the lie tree itself oozing evil and corrupting those who engage with it; it captures the feel of Victorian times when Darwin's new theories about evolution were altering how people saw the world and man's place in it, scientific concepts were being proved false, and religious beliefs challenged; and the murder mystery has red herrings and plot twists galore. In addition, it has a 14 year old heroine not happy to take the quiet role assigned to her by Victorian standards. Faith has inherited all her father's curiosity about the natural world but finding her interest in science blocked, has turned her inquisitiveness to more personal matters - eaves-dropping on others' conversations, riffling through private papers. Not the behaviour of a nice Victorian young lady! This willingness to snoop on others proves useful though, as she tries to discover motive and culprit for her father's death.

All in all, a book that should appeal across a wide range of ages and tastes, and one that I'd personally be tempted to re-read.

About the reviewer
Mary Mayfield is an avid reader and blogger from Notts, now living in Derby. She loves everything from War and Peace to the Shopaholic series, by way of Virginia Woolf. Claim to fame? Grandma grew up next door to DH Lawrence! See Our Book Reviews Online

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