I was immediately hooked by The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. As an anthropologist, I had read a number of works by “armchair anthropologists” that tracked the history of science through the Victorian era, the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, the gradual unearthing of fossils that called into question a worldview based on counting generations in the Old Testament, and the debates that attempted to reconcile religion and science. Enter Faith Sunderly, the 14-year-old daughter of an Anglican rector/gentleman scientist. Faith is a smart girl on the edge of adulthood who whose light of intelligence and burning curiosity is constantly frustrated by the suppressive gender biases of her time. The story opens with the family having crossed the sea to the island of Vane where her father has been invited to participate in an archeological dig.
Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that there is a lot going on in the story, on many levels, and Faith’s need for her father’s attention, currents within her family, between her family and the islanders, between the present and the past, all play a role in the story. A supernatural element is interjected in the scientific study of the natural as Faith exercises her darker side and begins spreading lies in hopes of uncovering truths. There is an element of horror as we watch her willingness to investigate the dark side lead to unintended consequences and we wonder if she will be consumed by it before she gains the knowledge she is seeking. Did I mention there is a murder mystery? The book could have been subtitled “truths and lies in the pursuit of science and justice.”
If you compare the time between my last review and this one then you’ll see that I read the book quickly. I could not put it down and stayed up late finishing it. I originally picked this book thinking it was Hugo eligible, but I find that while it currently has a publication year of 2016, there was an earlier release by a different publisher the previous year. Otherwise, it would have been on my Hugo nomination list. It is a favorite.