Frances Hardinge plants The Lie Tree at the centre of a dark tale of mystery [Review]

Frances Hardinge plants The Lie Tree at the centre of a dark tale of mystery [Review]

The Lie Tree
By Frances Hardinge
ISBN 978 1 4472 6410 1
Published by Macmillan

The Costa Book Awards are annual literary awards recognising books written in English by writers based in the UK and Ireland. The winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award in 2105 was Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree; not only did this novel win the award in its section, it was also named Costa Book of the Year, the first children’s book to win it since Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass in 2001.

The Costa judges said that Hardinge’s novel would grip “readers of all ages”. Hardinge added,“For those people who might think that children’s and YA fiction is not their thing, please do come and explore – there’s a beautiful jungle out there.”

The Lie Tree is a thrilling tale that will suck in readers everywhere. Set in Victorian England, when natural science was the hot topic because of Darwin’s controversial theory of evolution, Hardinge’s vividly hooking plot adds murder, deception, botanical magic and adventure onto a well-crafted mystery that ensures page-turning at top speed.

Faith Sunderly is the daughter of a discredited natural scientist who moves his family to a small island off the English coast to take part in an important fossil-finding dig. But Reverend Erasmus Sunderly is running away from much more than the rumours about him falsifying scientific evidence.

Reverend Sunderly’s secrets and lies cast a dark shadow over his wife, young son and teenage daughter, but it is Faith who feels the pressure of her father’s duplicity the most. When Reverend Sunderly meets an untimely and suspicious death, Faith resolves to find out the truth.

When she discovers her father’s notebooks and reads about the existence of a plant that feeds on human lies, she realises that her father was involved in something dark and sinister.

Faith sets out to unravel the mystery of who her father really was and what his natural history work had really revealed.

This superb Victorian melodrama deserves all the praise that is currently being heaped on it. It is brilliantly written with intriguing characters and packed with narrative tension.

On announcing the 2015 Costa Book of the Year, James Heneage, chair of the final judges, said “There is something deep inside me that wants The Lie Tree to be a best-seller. It’s a book to read in one or two sittings. It is a real page-turner.”

Praise doesn’t come much higher than that. A new novel by Hardinge is always an event, and this is her best one yet.

John Millen can be contacted on

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Plant that feeds on human lies at the centre of a dark tale of mystery


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