Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father’s journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith’s search for the tree leads her into great danger – for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .
Well Frances Hardinge did it again. She swept me away in her universe, and made me fall in love with a brave and unique heroine that overcomes all the obstacles thrown on her way to achieve what is important to her.
Apart from the main character, there are so many things I loved in this novel!
First the atmosphere. Dark and damp, rustling with secrets, full of suspicions, infected by lies. And all of this is so well rendered. It adds some tension to Faith’s quest. When she sneaks out of the house in this gloomy environment, well, you can feel it.
“The rain became deafening applause. Darkness closed like a fist”
I also loved the whole cast of characters, described with all their faults and nuances. Different shades of gray, different levels of deception, secret motives, there is a lot to uncover from them.
The plot itself is very imaginative, utterly original . A solid who-dunnit, entangled with natural sciences and fantasy elements. Touches of oniric visions as well, all blended in a coherent story.
And the theme of women’s place in society is well treated, through Faith’s internal struggle and dilemmas. She has so much ambition, but the society keeps trying to corset her, and her dreams. As much as she wants to be a “good girl”, her heart is a wild and brave one that can not bear captivity. So while she travels through the webs of lies her father left behind him, she also goes on her own self affirming journey, and this is very satisfying. There are other women around her that try to find their place and fight back. Mrs Vellet, Miss Hunt…and even Mrs Lambent, in a way. Faith’s mother is particularly interesting, dismissed at the beginning as vain, futile, she slowly reveals her true self, far braver and more aware of her situation than she seemed.
And of course, Hardinge’s writing is still this gorgeous and rich prose I love. While the universe she describes here is not the lush, colourful one we discovered in A Face Like Glass, her language still bears its unique enchantment. She is a master of words, definitely.
“Half-lies, and the tense little silences where a truth should have been. Lies like knives, lies like poultices. The tiger’s stripe, and the fawn’s dusky dapple. And everywhere, everywhere, the lies that people told themselves. Dreams like cut flowers, with no nourishing root. Will-o’-the-whisp lights to make them feel less alone in the dark. Hollow resolutions, and empty excuses.”
Conclusion : Read it! And while you are at it, read everything Frances Hardinge has written or will write in the future. That is what I am going to do, at least.
Want to buy the book? All links available here.