The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
“For those people who might be hearing this who think that children’s and YA fiction is not their thing, please do come and explore—there’s a beautiful jungle out there.”
Frances Hardinge, accepting her Costa Book of the Year Award
These are exciting times for the world of children's literature. Not since Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass has a book written for young readers been awarded both the Costa Children's and the Costa Book of the Year awards.
Before we get into the plot and praise this wonderful, complex novel, I should warn that this will not be an easy read for every young reader. The opening chapters are dark and sombre in tone, with highly descriptive language. It may take a fair amount of patience to get to the stage where the strands of the plot come together, after which I was suddenly breezing through at the pace of an unputtdownable thriller. Confident readers of 12+ (and older readers of any age) will find much to get their teeth into here. Slightly younger readers might want to start on A Face Like Glass. Fans of dark and spooky fiction may also want to check out her 2014 novel, Cuckoo's Song (Tony's review here). We believe Frances Hardinge should be valued for combining incredible cleverness with a liberated imagination. In each of her books you will find unflinching, hard reality. You will also find magic.
The Lie Tree is the story of a 14 year-old scientist's daughter, living during the Victorian era. It is a frustrating time for enquiring female minds. It is also a time of unstable beliefs, the foundations of religious life being rocked and pummelled by the new science of paleaontology. While grounded firmly in the real-life turmoils of the time in which it is set, the story also contains an inventive element of fantasy: the 'lie tree', a plant that feeds on your lies and bears fruit that, once eaten, can show you windows into the past. Faith's father has secretly obtained this tree and fled with his family to a remote island, but when he is mysteriously murdered and Faith discovers the tree's hiding place, how will she use it for her own means? To discover her father's assassin? To delve into the past of the human race? The lie tree becomes a powerful plot device that exposes tricky questions about morality, honesty and the responsibility that comes not only with great power—but with great intelligence.
If you already know and love YA fiction, you need to read Frances Hardinge. If you are hitherto unfamiliar with the territory, welcome to the "beautiful jungle."