REVIEW: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

This is the fourth of my reviews of the YA Book Prize shortlist. I’m going to be reading and reviewing each title on the shortlist, so HOLD TIGHT and get ready for FEELINGS and OPINIONS.

Faith Sunderly is virtuous and reliable, just like the good little girl she’s been brought up to be. Her father is a reverend and renowned natural scientist. He’s a clever man, and his daughter is a clever girl. Clever enough to chafe against the restraints placed on her by society because of her gender. Clever enough to detect scandal when her family flees to the secluded island of Vane, followed by whispers. Clever enough to discover the secrets of her father’s prize specimen, the Mendacity Tree. But it is ever so lonely to be a clever girl, and Faith is going to need her wits about her to escape the traps being laid and the lies being told.


Here’s a lie for you: The Lie Tree is a terrible book and you shouldn’t read it.

I’m honestly unsure how to go about this review, because all I have to say to you all is “READ IT, IT’S SO GOOD, READ IT AND TELL ME YOU LOVE IT.” Helpfully, I didn’t even keep notes while I was reading, because I swallowed it up in greedy gulps. It’s so many things: historical adventure, murder mystery, feminist SFF coming-of-age. It’s a novel of many wonders and delights, irresistible turns of phrase, and enough creepiness to have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.

People were animals, and animals were nothing but teeth. You bit first, and you bit often. That was the only way to survive.

The Lie Tree won the Costa book of the year 2015, making it the first book for young readers to win since 2001’s The Amber Spyglass, the concluding volume of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Faith reminded me somewhat of Pullman’s heroine, Lyra: both are girls on the cusp of adulthood, who delight in a little nastiness, and whose power depends on their ability to lie convincingly. They’re both flawed but irresistible characters on fantastic adventures.

You know what? I can’t do the book justice in my review. I’m sorry, I know you’re not here for advice, but I think you should probably just go read The Lie Tree instead of this blog. Already read it? Read it again. You know it’ll justify a reread. Treat yourself. (Or wait until it’s won a zillion other awards.)


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