The Lie Tree is a fantastically creepy tale from one of my all-time favourite authors. A historical fantasy with a compelling female protagonist, The Lie Tree tells the story of Faith, a young girl who moves with her family from England to the island of Vane. Faith’s father, both a man of the church and a man of science, is found dead not long after the family arrive on Vane, unfurling a story that is a thriller and a murder mystery with added elements of gothic horror. It is also in so many ways a story about women; women who are ambitious and cunning, women who act within the limits of their position in society to better themselves and their families, women who manipulate and subvert stereotypes. If you look carefully you can even notice the Biblical themes that run throughout the novel, most notably with the Tree itself symbolising the Tree of Knowledge and Faith as an Eve who is self-aware and empowered in her actions.
Faith is a character who grows to be fascinating. She is introduced as a shy, awkward girl but Hardinge shows us in glimpses and through Faith’s own narrative voice that this is a girl born with ambition and an extraordinary intelligence born into a society that by its nature, stifles their women. The death of Faith’s father allows Faith to finally come out of herself and what we begin to see is a girl exploring the world for herself and becoming something new and powerful. Her relationship with the Tree was so good – I loved the slow tension in those scenes, the strange seductive qualities of the Tree (it ‘likes’ her); how the Tree itself is sentient. A huge part of the story is the way in which the Tree feeds, growing in power in direct correlation with the lies it’s fed; I loved the creepiness of it all.
There was a lot to love about this book, but I think probably my favourite parts involved Faith learning to navigate the world she lives in and to use her intelligence in ways that women are taught from a very young age not to do. It is not coincidence that the Tree feeds on lies or that Faith understands the Tree and how to feed it more than her father did. Her ability to lie and manipulate was fascinating, especially as the story progresses and you meet more women whose entire lives have depended on this ability. I also thought it was kind of brilliant to set this book at the time in which Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first released. What an excellent way in which to discuss religion, science and a rapidly changing world in which women were gradually beginning to fight to be seen as equals to men.
This was a fantastic read with so many things to discuss and to love about it. I really recommend this read and this author. If I keep talking about Frances Hardinge one day I will get through to everyone, y/y?