The Lie Tree is a book I was given for my birthday (yes, I know that was in January, trust me, this is far from the longest a book has waited, ignored, on my shelves). I didn’t know much about it and I’d not read anything else by Frances Hardinge but it sounded interesting enough.
The story is set in Victorian Britain and follows Faith, the teenage daughter of a minister who has found himself caught up in a spot of bother, thanks in part to his ambitious fossil-collecting habit. Faith wishes to follow in her father’s footsteps and study natural history. She quickly discovers that the gentlemen who normally do this are not particularly open to having women and young girls join in.
Faith’s family have been uprooted and moved from London to a remote island following a scandal. Although if you asked Faith’s mother, Myrtle, she’d deny the scandal and insist that they were moving because of some interesting geological finds on the island, that Faith’s father should definitely be involved in looking into.
In uncovering the details of the scandal, Faith discovers The Lie Tree, a tree that bears bitter fruit when it’s fed lies, provided the liar also spreads the lies among as many people as they can. If the liar then eats the fruit they fall into a trance, during which they dream about the truth. So far, so fantasy.
Faith’s a good, relatable heroine and demonstrates her cleverness throughout the book, overturning plots and working hard to hold her family together. Even as a young girl she manages to persuade the grown-ups that she shouldn’t be immediately dismissed, and enlists them to help her.
I enjoyed the story and couldn’t help comparing it to The Essex Serpent, given that both are set in Victorian London and share themes of female empowerment and natural history. I think you could also be forgiven for drawing parallels to Oscar and Lucinda. So perhaps it’s no wonder that this supposed “children’s book” snagged the 2015 prize for the Costa Book of the Year.