Imagine a tree that grows only in the dark and thrives on a diet of human lies. When well fed, the tree bears a bitter fruit, and when eaten, the fruit shows visions of secret knowledge. Now imagine a young girl in the 1800s, dependent on father and uncle and brother and future husband for money and care, her scientific mind dismissed. Faith Sunderly is such a girl, and she is so desperate for her father to approve of her and acknowledge her ambitions that she finds her way to his secret lie tree, and continues to feed it after her father is murdered.
This summer, I read A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, and it was one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s hard, after reading a best-book like that, to delve into others of the author’s works, not knowing if they’ll compare. Compared to A Face Like Glass, I didn’t enjoy this book as much. On its own, however, it was a good book. It starts a little slow and doesn’t really pick up until after Faith’s father is found dead and Faith goes in search of the lie tree. After that, though, it’s a book to race through, with new twists and a big mystery to solve. All of that is wrapped up in the discussions of the time period: religion vs evolution, a woman’s place in the world, etc. And of course, there’s the idea of the tree itself.
The only way to feed the tree is to whisper lies to it, and then to spread those lies. The more people who believe, the bigger the fruit that the tree will bear, and the greater the secret knowledge gained by eating the fruit. Faith’s father wanted greater truths about God and where people really come from. Faith just wants to know who killed her father and why. And, perhaps, she wants to punish the people of the island they currently reside on for treating her family badly. And a small lie to get the things that she needs and wants won’t really hurt anyone, right? Not if it’s providing knowledge that will lead to the greater good? But can a tree fed a diet of lies really lead to the greater good? Will that greater good matter, in the face of the liar’s corruption of mind and soul? As Faith becomes enmeshed in a tangle of vines and lies and acts of violence, she has to sort out the truth – a difficult thing to do when the corruption of her lies has spread far beyond what she created.
This is the thing I’ve loved best about the two books I’ve read by Hardinge. She explores difficult questions with no clear-cut answers, and does so in a way that is integral to the story and characters. It doesn’t feel heavy handed or pushed on you, but instead a natural part of the book. Her books would make for fantastic book club discussions. And while I preferred the first book by her that I read, this one was certainly a good one as well.
Performance: This audiobook was read by Charlotte Wright, who did a fine job. I have no complaints.