Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Historical, mystery, fantasy, YA
First published: 2015
Author: Frances Hardinge
Synopsis: Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.
In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.
This was a strange and interesting book. It had a very Agatha Christie-y vibe to it, but at the same time, it had this very dark element of fantasy to it. I did enjoy it quite a bit though.
My main complaint about it is that it was quite slow to start. It took a good 100 pages for things to really start happening. I feel like if the setting isn’t a complex fantasy world, there is no justification for such a long exposition. Even with a fantasy world 100 pages of exposition might be pushing it, especially if your book isn’t very long. Like, I get that we needed a sort of background of how the characters got to where they were at, but it could have been done better. It could have started off with the death of Faith’s father, which is in the synopsis, and then give some background info in flashbacks or something.
Another objection, a much more minor one though, is that the whole thing with the tree was very confusing. Even after reading the whole book, I’m not sure I quite understand what the tree was and how it worked. But on the other hand, that could have just been done intentionally to increase the air of mystery, especially since I don’t think that Faith really understood the tree either, so I guess it could get away with it. Though personally, because the tree was such a pivotal element of Faith’s investigation, and therefore of the entire plot, I think it should have been explained better.
Something that I think was done very well was the setting and the atmosphere. The book takes place in Victorian England. Though technically, it mostly takes place on one of the small British isles. I forget which one. Anyway, it felt really authentic and the author managed to create a very dark and mysterious atmosphere that really made me want to keep reading.
I also enjoyed Faith as a character. She reminded me of myself a little, with her curiosity and love for science. And while the general attitude of everyone else that women (let alone girls) shouldn’t and don’t have the ability to be clever, was really, really frustrating, it did reflect the general thinking of the time and it gave Faith a subversive air that worked really well.
It’s very hard to find things to say about it without giving anything away, so I’ll finish off by saying that I did enjoy the book and I’m curious to try some of Hardinge’s other novels.