The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Received from NetGalley for review.

’Sounds were startlingly real in this world of ghosts.’

This is my second foray into the world of Frances Hardinge’s mind, and although I wasn’t as enthralled by The Lie Tree as I was by Cuckoo Song, it is still an immensely creepy, mysterious and beautifully written novel. I cannot say it enough – I just love Hardinge’s writing style; it’s so lyrical and delicious.

The Lie Tree is set around the late 1860’s, stemming from Victorian England to the small island of Vane. Faith and her family (uninterested and proper mother, Myrtle, adorable and needy little brother, Howard, imposing and strict father, Reverend Erasmus Sunderly and kindly Uncle Miles) have moved there so that her father can help with an excavation site (being a noted natural scientist). Faith, however, can tell that there is a darker reason that they have left Kent and it soon becomes apparent that the family is escaping a scandal. Much of the first 45% is covered in the blurb – Faith’s father dies in strange circumstances and she uncovers a mysterious tree that he was obsessed with, one that is fed with lies and will reveal truths.

Although there are no great reveals during that first 45%, the characters and mystery surrounding Faith’s father are exceptionally well developed. Faith was the star of this book, she is a clever, inquisitive and mischievous fourteen year old, and so desperate to be acknowledged and loved by her mother and father, especially her father. Sadly, as a girl in the 1800’s she is seen as nothing more than a pretty little burden who will eventually become a burden to a husband or her brother when she grows up, and her love of learning is looked down upon by all, which made me both incredibly angry and sad, for Faith and for women of the era in general. Her transformation throughout the novel is remarkable and fascinating, and I loved the way her character developed and changed.

We also get a real sense of the characters of Myrtle, Reverend Sunderly and Howard, all of whom have distinct personalities and quirks. Though Myrtle and the Reverend largely fall into the stereotype we would expect from distinguished people of the Victorian era, Hardinge manages to make them seem individual and not some reproduction of other characters, as can happen in historical fiction. I especially enjoyed the character of Myrtle, not because she was particularly likeable but because you could see the way she was playing the people around her and playing a part – the part of proper Victorian lady – despite not really wanting to, and having the person who was supposed to take care of her fail her. What was the point of men always being right when they were incapable of providing and protecting? We know now that it is ridiculous sexism and bias, gender proves nothing, but I can imagine how shocking it must have been to have everything you believed smashed to pieces.

The atmosphere is incredibly authentic and believable – I believe it is part of the magic of Hardinge’s writing. I was in the boat travelling to Vane, on the rainy little island, anywhere and everywhere in this book I was with the characters every step of the way. Although I found the plot somewhat predictable, there was just enough mystery to keep me intrigued and, as always, the writing was lovely to read. Another brilliant novel from Frances Hardinge that I recommend to all fans of the weird and wonderful.

Read: May 4th-9th 2015

4/5 stars

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