Mystery, magic, religion, and feminism swirl together in Hardinge’s latest heady concoction, set amid the scientific ferment following the publication of The Origin of Species.
When the Rev. Sunderly, famed natural scientist, abruptly moves his family from England to a small island, his 14-year-old daughter is surprised and then heartbroken as she realizes they are fleeing scandal; her remote but beloved father faked the fossil discovery that assured his fame. When he dies shortly after their arrival, Faith—whose plain, obedient exterior has always hidden a brilliant mind and daring spirit—is the only one who suspects murder. She turns to a secret plant her father has nurtured, which feeds off lies propagated in the world and delivers to the liar a truth-bearing hallucinogenic fruit. The tree exerts a malevolent force, but it also unleashes the true Faith as she navigates complex social and political machinations, with only the reluctant aid of the son of the local clergyman. In lesser hands, this might be crowded; instead, Hardinge creates a fierce, unlikable heroine navigating a rapidly changing world and does it all with consummate skill and pitch-perfect prose, drawing readers into Faith’s world and onto her side and ultimately saying quite a lot about the world.
Thematically rich, stylistically impressive, absolutely unforgettable. (Historical fantasy/horror. 12 & up)