The Lie Tree
Costa Book Award (2015)
Time to start 2016 with a confession. You ready for it?
I’m in LOVE with Frances Hardinge.
Last year, I discovered Hardinge when I read Cuckoo’s Song, which won the British Fantasy Award in the YA/middle grade category. So, when I saw that her newest, The Lie Tree, was a finalist for the Costa Book of the Year, which will be decided in late January, I impulse bought the Kindle version so fast.
Okay, backing up a second, I have to tell you that I’ve never heard of the Costa Book Awards, but, according to their website, “Costa Book Awards is one of the UK’s most prestigious and popular literary prizes and recognises some of the most enjoyable books of the year, written by authors based in the UK and Ireland.” Thing is? Costa is a coffee shop, apparently the nation’s ‘favourite’, so…. I dunno, it kind of feels like this as if Starbuck’s gave out a literary prize.
Which makes me think, why DOESN’T Starbuck’s give out a literary prize? Because, seriously, coffee and books! Especially since I love that this award specifically goes not to the best or the cleverest book, it goes to the most ENJOYABLE.
And, The Lie Tree is really quite enjoyable.
Like Cuckoo’s Song before it, The Lie Tree is very creepy and atmospheric. It’s also another period piece, taking place about four years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Our heroine. Faith, is a gawky, nerdy teenager–in a time when ‘nerdy’ wasn’t even an adjective yet, and, much worse, it was super NOT OKAY for a young lady of society to be one. Faith actually spends a good deal of the first few chapters thinking that there is something actually physically wrong with herself because she’s so curious and inquisitive. It’s heartbreaking.
And, of course, the whole motion of the plot, because Faith’s inquisitiveness leads her to snoop into her father’s things. Her father is a vicar and a natural scientist who has become famous for having discovered a fossil that appears to be that of a winged human, called the “nephilim.” But…he and the family are leaving Kent for a remote island in order to escape the scandal of “falsified fossils.” Faith very slowly uncovers more truths about her father, his science (both real and faked), and, his biggest secret of all, an exotic plant imported during a recent travel to China, which purportedly lives off lies. Not only does it get nourishment from lies, but it also then produces a “fruit of knowledge,” which reveals the truth reflected in the lies. So, for instance, Faith’s father lied about his fossil in order to get a fruit that would tell him if evolution was true.
What I love about Hardinge is that, when I say this, out loud, in a review, it sounds outlandish and kind of stupid. A plant that feeds off lies, but gives you a Truth Fruit?
Yet, the way it’s written it’s totally plausible, partly because of the era–in which phrenology was a thing–but also because it’s never stated that the tree actually works, only that lies do. The fruit might just be poisonous enough to give the eaters visions, and the “truth” they see in these visions might just be pieces of what they already suspected coming together.
It’s also a book about science, the scientific method, and being a woman scientist. I loved this thing to bits and I’m not sure what else needs to be said beyond: GO, GO GET IT NOW, READ!