I feel like I have been hearing about Frances Hardinge from my dwircle for quite some time now, and I've finally gotten around to reading her after a reading binge that I blame on skygiants' posts on the Fionavar Tapestry. (I started with The Fionavar Tapestry last weekend and then.. kept reading things! It was great! I think I read more books this past week than I have all year to date!)
Ryan, Chelle and Josh are desperate for bus money one night, and Josh ends up sneaking down a well to grab some of the wishing coins. But then each of them begin developing strange powers (I am still viscerally creeped out by Ryan's), and they find that they have to start granting the wishes tied to the coins they took. And since granting wishes never goes well, things slowly start to go very, very wrong.
I've seen many comparisons of Hardinge with Diana Wynne Jones, and this book in particular feels very much like DWJ--the oddball kids, the way some unlikable characters grow likable and others turn bad, the slowly growing sense of dread and uneasiness. This book was very creepy in that damp fingers down your spine kind of way, which was not what I had been expecting. There's a lot here about what you wish for on the surface and what you actually want, and how you can be trapped in wishes you've outgrown. I also liked that even though Ryan, Chelle and Josh band together because both Ryan and Chelle would have been picked on at school if not for Josh, Hardinge takes time to show what bits are being friends just because there's no one else and how you can kind of be friends with someone and only get to know them better later.
The Lie Tree
So, I thought Verdigris Deep was creepy. The Lie Tree is SO MUCH CREEPIER O_o.
Faith's father is a discredited paleontologist who has taken his family and a secret project to an island to avoid the public eye, but growing a tree that feeds on lies that you spread never turns out well. This is set in the late 19th century, and it manages to make the time period feel just as alien as a built-from-scratch fantasy world. Hardinge makes fossils and the radical idea of evolution feel terrifying and world- and faith-shaking in a way I haven't really encountered before, and there's a matter-of-factness to the Victorian focus on morbidity that makes the entire worldview feel foreign. I went and looked up tons of details on Victorian photography and mourning rituals after this.
I loved Faith, who is clever and angry and not particularly nice, how she despises her mother and desperately wants her father's acknowledgement even though he is a terrible human being. I love that Hardinge doesn't try to file off her edges (or anyone else's, for that matter), and although it's not particularly new to talk about just how circumscribed women's roles were, it's rare to get that visceral feeling of being slowly stifled. Also, bonus points for not magically making Faith believe in evolution and other things we now know are scientifically correct; one of my favorite exchanges consists of one person arguing that something is caused by animal magnetism only to be pooh-poohed for being unscientific, as obviously it is spiritual energy instead.
This is a very, very good book, and I've been deliberately holding off on binging on more of Hardinge so I don't get through all her back catalog too quickly.
- skygiants' reviews of Verdigris Deep and The Lie Tree
- coffeeandink on Verdigris Deep
- rushthatspeaks on Verdigris Deep
- starlady on The Lie Tree
Link me to other write ups! I'm sad I missed the conversations!
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