Recently nominated for the YA Book Prize and winner of the Costa Award, The Lie Tree is an intriguing, weaving tale of a curious girl, Faith, and a whole layering of mystery surrounding the controversial work of her reverend and natural scientist father. All of this is against a backdrop of paranoia and self-questioning, not to mention prejudice, in post-Darwin 19th century.
Frances Hardinge sets us on an island, immediately painted as bleak and an escape for Faith’s father. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and where the good Reverend decides to escape after a scandal has rocked his life’s work back in mainland England.
The plot is totally gripping, with a host of macabre characters with their own motivations and machinations, participating in a sweeping whodunit. Alongside this, we also have the mystery of Faith’s father’s secretive new scientific endeavours, involving a most intriguing tree. Hardinge swashbuckles her way through bizarre Victorian superstitions and hits hard at gender stereotypes and downright female oppression.
The Lie Tree is at times bleak, but is a great read in terms of mystery, history, philosophy and while acting as a perfect snapshot of an educated population at a very specific moment in time, it manages to be relevant to today’s increasingly paranoid and still heavily patriarchal society.