I didn’t even need to read the description of this one to know I wanted it. I’ve only read A Face Like Glass and Cuckoo Song, and I know that I’m willing to try anything Frances Hardinge writes. I love that she focuses on young female characters who are beginning to come into their own. In this book, Faith moves from a quiet girl who think she’s wrong for not fitting the mould to a girl who acts for herself with courage, who isn’t afraid to claim a new place for herself. I love all the natural history stuff here in the background, Faith’s involvement in her father’s work and fascination with it, the way she genuinely has a scientific interest of her own beyond her devotion to her father.
I didn’t love the plot as much as I have Hardinge’s other books; it has some of those simple but brilliant ideas (like the expressions in A Face Like Glass) which drive the plot, but then there’s the murder mystery, and that aspect I found… well, less magical. Which is not surprising, but I can’t help it: I like magic. I do like the way the plot resolves, though, and the fact that there are still mysteries that Faith will never solve about the Lie Tree — like how quickly it grew, fed on her lies; the maliciousness that seems to hang around it. I like that complication: the thing that Faith is using to investigate what happened, a good motive, may not be good in itself — may even be something dark and evil.
I like the slow understanding of Myrtle’s character, too. It’s easy to write a woman who has machinations, wants to marry someone rich, etc, etc. It’s harder to see through that to a woman trying to protect her family, trying to hold things together with the powers she has, what power she’s managed to scrounge from a system that doesn’t give her much credit.
All in all, though it’s not my favourite, this is very good. Most of the characters are subtle, good and bad and pitiable and pitiless. There are shades of grey just like life. It doesn’t present a fake world where everything is easy, which ranks it amongst the best YA.