The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

When Faith’s family moves suddenly to an out-of-the-way island to conduct an archaeological dig, they do so under threat of suspicion and fear, though fear of what Faith isn’t told. (She’s only fourteen, and nice young ladies in the year 1868 don’t ask questions.) But Faith herself hopes that this will be her opportunity to show her father, a prominent archaeologist, that she can be a scholarly companion to him, that she is worth taking seriously. Once they reach the island, though, it becomes clear that her worth remains what it has always been: She’s as valuable as the trouble she can save her family by behaving decorously and taking care of her little brother, Howard.

When tragedy strikes her family, Faith has to make use of all her cunning and bravery to delve into her father’s secrets — including the mysterious Lie Tree.

The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree is, with all the good and less good this implies, a very very Frances Hardinge sort of book. By which I mean that it’s slow to crank its story into gear, and you sit through quite a bit of table-setting before Hardinge lets you taste the meal; but when it does get going, you’re certain of a satisfactory conclusion. More Hardingely still, you can be sure that nobody in the book will be just one thing. If a character is kindly or catty or condescending early on, you are nearly guaranteed to see another side of them before the book is over.

Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies.

I am mightily preoccupied with the not-one-thing-ness of people. It’s easy to take the quick and dirty route of learning a little about someone and allowing our biases to fill in the rest, even — maybe especially — when we are ourselves trying to fight free of other people’s restrictive narratives of what we are supposed to be like. The half-truths we tell ourselves about other people because it’s convenient aren’t the type of lies Faith thinks to feed to the Lie Tree, but the tree thrives on those untruths as well. While Faith badly wants to be seen for who she is, not just who she pretends to be, the conventions and norms of her time frequently blind her to the fact that the people around her are often as constricted as she is (and more).

Excellent stuff, all in all. Frances Hardinge knows how to get me with her Themes and Feelings and Ladies Who Seem One Way But Actually Have Hidden Depths Like All People Do. I’ll just leave you with this, my of-course favorite moment of the book:

“This is a battlefield, Faith! Women find themselves on battlefields, just as men do. We are given no weapons, and cannot be seen to fight. But fight we must, or perish.”


  • I just listened to this one on audio earlier this month, and really loved it! Faith is a complex lady, and I enjoyed her perspective and sass. I’ll have to check out some of her other books.

    • Yes, do! I really liked her last one, Cuckoo Song. I can’t describe the plot without semi-spoiling it, so you’ll just have to trust me that it’s excellent.

  • Yes, I loved this book. It was so layered and complex without being condescending or trite.

    • For sure. I’d have loved to have this when I was a kid — I was prone to thinking that I was “different from other ladies,” and this could have been a really salutary book for me to have read back then.

  • Love that quote! You have definitely intrigued me yet again! You are getting to be dangerous for my wallet!

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Love the dinner party analogy! Great concluding quote too that is sadly still true in so many ways.

    • I know, isn’t it good? Part of me wanted to not include that quote and just let people find it for themselves, but then I couldn’t resist putting it in at the end. It’s SO GOOD.

  • This was intriguing and then you included this: “Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies.” and now I have to read it. WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME, JENNY?

  • Yayyy, you loved it too! I really need to read more Hardinge if it’s more like this. My favorite line of your review: “While Faith badly wants to be seen for who she is, not just who she
    pretends to be, the conventions and norms of her time frequently blind
    her to the fact that the people around her are often as constricted as
    she is (and more).” Such complexity is what I crave and all too often am denied.

    • YES me too. I love it that Frances Hardinge often seems to be pitting her women characters against each other, but then in reality she never actually is. It’s a lovely and refreshing change of pace.

  • Yes.

  • JeanPing

    OH, the UK bookshop girl I DWJ-bonded with told me I had to read this book and it was fabulous. You make it sound great. It is TOTALLY TRUE that other ladies are also not like other ladies!

    • Did she? How good! Because yeah, I totally think that DWJ fans in general would tend to be also fans of Frances Hardinge. They have things in common.

  • Kailana

    I definitely want to check this out!

  • I haven’t heard of Frances Hardinge, but the fact that she writes such complex characters is very appealing to me. I’ll have to look up more of her work. This one sounds like a great read though, a bit bittersweet perhaps, but I like that it seems to be empowering to women.

    • Oh man, I really recommend her, if you’re at all into YA fantasy. Cuckoo Song is my favorite one of her books, and The Lie Tree is a close second. Super good.

  • Oh, I just love it when you think a character is one way but then they turn out to be something else and all that was bluster or defensiveness or whatever. That’s what always gets me about LJ Smith novels.

    • Yes! Yes! Me too! I love it when the reader and the narrator both think one thing about a character and then it ends up being totally wrong. That is great.

  • Maureen E

    I loved this one in a different way than I’ve loved Hardinge’s other books–its sharpness and follow through are great, and I LOVED how she turns the cliches on their heads.

  • I kinda keep waffling about this one. Your review has me more intrigued, however!

  • Amanda

    I haven’t read any Frances Hardinge books – but this will definitely be on my list. I’m very intrigued.

  • I’ve not read anything by Hardinge before, but your description of her style sounds good to me 🙂