the Little Red Reviewer

The Family Tree, by Sheri S. Tepper

Posted on: October 12, 2020

You’ve probably already figured this out about me, but I don’t mind it when an author doesn’t explain everything.  I’d rather a story very slowly tease out the “what’s really going on”, rather than tell me all the fun stuff up front.   Sheri S Tepper’s The Family Tree, published way back in 1997, is very much this kind of story.  We meet some characters and get to know them . .  we meet a second batch of characters and get to know them. . .  and then, well,  you might want to duct tape your jaw to your head, as some insulation against how many times this book will make it drop.


Also, whoever wrote the back cover copy on the paperback I have, man, that person managed to take an amazing, charming, enthralling book and make it sound kinda blah. So don’t read the cover copy!!


As with most other Tepper novels I’ve read, I was drawn in to the story immediately. The characters caught and kept my attention, and Tepper showed me their environment without infodumping.  This is a very Tepper book, and by that I mean the characters are intelligent and persistent, there is a pro-environmental / live kindly with nature theme, and a long game.


We meet police officer Dora Henry as she’s realizing she needs to leave her husband Jared.  They have the absolute strangest relationship ever, more a marriage of convenience than anything romantic. And when she moves her stuff out he flips out. (later in the book, when Jared flips out even more, I described him as a mustache twirling dick. My husband’s response was “but was he a dick twirling mustache?”.  Dick twirling mustache is my new favorite way to describe a petty bad guy).


Even without the divorce and Jared’s drama, Dora has her hands full at work.  There are some murders that her department is investigating (who would kill a scientist?) and invasive plants and trees are taking over the city.  She doesn’t mind the invasive trees and plants, they are quite pretty, if you like that kind of thing (which Dora, and I, do)


So,  just as I’m getting super invested in Dora’s plotline,  the story shifts to this sort of quest fantasy plotline.  My first thought was that Dora was telling this story to someone? Or that someone was telling this, as a bedtime story, to Dora in her childhood? Because it did have the trappings of a fantasy story – among other characters is the young harem slave, Nassif,  who is told to dress like a boy and be a servant for Prince Sahir who is going on a quest,  there is also Prince Izakar who has access to secret library and is told he needs to solve the great mystery of his time, there is a farming family whose humorous children only care that their grazing animals are safe,  there is a countess, there are a few other characters. All these people end up meeting and deciding they should continue together, in hopes they can help each other on their possibly connected quests.


My second thought, after a few chapters of these fantasy style characters was how nice they were to each other. Sure, people disagree, but there was no backstabbing, no betrayals, no intrigue, no bloody wars of conquest. All these folks are, for lack of a better term, decent human beings who show kindness and compassion. (how sad is that, that I’m shocked to run into decent human beings in a sci-fantasy novel??)  There does seem to be this thing about accusing people being cannibals, which was disconcerting and threw my idea of this being a bedtime story out the window.

As our fantasy characters get closer to understanding their quests and each other, Dora learns more about Jared’s past and his relationship with a young woman who lived in the neighborhood years ago.  The trees are growing faster than the city can cut them down, there are even rumors the trees are growing into people’s houses and taking newborns, which is actually quite terrifying!

The Family Tree  has quite a bit to say about overpopulation, the environment, and who on earth deserves to survive. This a quiet, gently paced eco-thriller.   How you feel about the environment, how you feel about resource exploitation, how you feel about trees and nature and humans dominating nature, your opinions on those things very likely will color how you feel about The Family Tree.  that is to say, your mileage will vary.


Dora has her own reasons for why she believes what she does, based on her own lived experiences.  My lived experiences are nearly the opposite of hers, yet somehow, she and I are generally on the same page.   I get where she’s coming from.


Anyway, the story moves along at a nice pace, Nassif and Prince Izakar dance flirtatiously around each other (omg, those two are SO CUTE),  other characters on the quest have some very, very strange behaviors and also some charming ones,  and a few words start filtering from one story line to the other. I don’t know who these folks are, but they are charming, weird, and kind to each other.


And then, the two princes and their entourage find themselves at the end of their journey. They’ve found the people they needed to find, they’ve asked the questions they needed to ask and sorta kinda got some answers.


And two pages after that, my jaw fell so far I had to walk down two flights of stairs in my apartment building to go find my jaw, as it had fallen all the way to the laundry room in the basement.  No spoilers, but this was THE BEST reveal in a fantasy novel, possibly EVER.  was it hinted at? Absolutely.  Did I ever get close to guessing? NOPE.  once you get past the “wait, what??”  does it work? YES.  are there other huge reveals? Oh goodness YES.


Ok, so if you like social sci-fantasy with one hell of a twist, The Family Tree is for you! It was a fantastic read, Tepper knows how to draw a reader in right away!


If you’ve read Tepper before (oh hai, Grass), and don’t want to read horror, The Family Tree is not a horror book.  Are there moments of tension? Sure.  is there some violence? A little, and it’s off-screen.  But this isn’t a scary book.


And Jared is an absolute dick twirling mustache,  by the way.

2 Responses to "The Family Tree, by Sheri S. Tepper"

Another Tepper, yay! Hopphopp up on the tbr!

Liked by 1 person

Oh hell yes!! I need to read this! Everything … EVERYTHING… about this sounds incredible.
And “dick twirling mustache” LOL, can I use that?! 🤣


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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