This stunning book follows Faith Sunderly, the intelligent and inquisitive daughter of a Victorian Reverend/Naturalist, as she attempts to untangle the web of lies regarding her family’s sudden retreat from their comfortable existence in Kent.
When we are first introduced to the Sunderly family you find out that Faith is in awe of her father and wishes to follow in his footsteps in the field of science, her mother is shown as silly and frivolous and her little brother, Howard, relies on Faith for guidance and protection from the displeasure of the stern Reverend Sunderly.
To her family Faith is dull, trustworthy and reliable but inside she is curious, easily angered, perceptive and frustrated at her lack of opportunity to develop her intellect; her ability to hide behind her dull persona proves to be a useful asset later in the book.
The Reverend Sunderly has been invited to the small island of Vane to take part in an excavation of some caves by the wealthy landowner Anthony Lambent. However, soon after their arrival the family are shunned by the islanders as news of the Reverend’s scandal follows them to their new home. As the atmosphere becomes darker and the characters’ true colours are revealed, events culminate with the Reverend’s sudden death. From this point, Faith has to use all of her cunning to prove her theory that her father was murdered.
The Lie Tree explores the themes of sexism, science versus religion, and the destructive power of lies, within a richly crafted story. Interestingly, I found some similar themes in the newly released Strange Star by Emma Carroll which I reviewed here. Unexpected plot twists lay around every corner and the metaphors, similes and imagery used were beautifully detailed. Frances Hardinge’s ability with words was breathtaking, and tensions and suspicions were created from a single sentence. For example in a scene where the ladies move into the drawing room after a meal she describes them relaxing once they are away from the men with this sentence:
“Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.”
This was one of many sentences that I had to re-read several times to absorb its full power.
Faith has to battle against the prejudices of the Victorian era such as the belief that women were inferior in intellect, and she is therefore shown as a brave and heroic character who stands up to men who viewed themselves as her superiors. This book is truly outstanding and I would highly recommend it to anyone aged 11 to 100; definitely 5 out of 5 stars!