"Little knowing how they came to be here, small communities live around the coast line. The Tree provides them shelter, kindling, medicine – and a place of legends, for there are ghosts within the trees who snatch children and the dying.
"Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?"
Walking The Tree provides a sense of mystery as each visit to the various communities provides another insight of those who live on the island. The different communities are known as Orders, and each have their own flavour of food that comes from the Tree in that particular location. The Aloe Order makes perfume from the jasmine plants that grow there; the Pinon Order use nuts from the Tree to use as oil or flavouring in their food, and they hang their “treated” people from trees; and the Sequoia Order were fearful of the sea monsters as some of their community had been taken. The ocean had its own effect on many of the Orders where some appreciated the fish and crabs it provided, and the taking of humans who ventured out upon it.
Spikes is the plague that wiped out three-quarters of the population a hundred years before, and each of the Orders have strict methods of keeping disease out of their communities. Any person suspected of having Spikes is ‘treated’, along with whomever is close to them: companion, friend, family. This ensures that Spikes does not reoccur and contaminate the remainder of the population.
Each of the Orders has a Tale-Teller to tell stories of their version of creation, life and superstitions at their location next to the Tree. This provides an insight into the local culture for visiting Schools. As Lillah and her School make their way around the Tree, they encounter good and bad Orders. Lillah promised to make a map of her journey after each encounter with the Orders, commenting on culture and food.
Every visit to a new Order provides another answer in the survival of the Teachers and the children of the School. With the different attitudes toward death, sex and the Tree, Lillah is kept thinking about her own beliefs. Each answer to her questions only fuels more questions that she strives to learn more.
There is an interesting contrast between the people who live in the tribal communities and those who live in the Tree. Those outside the Tree believe there are ‘ghosts’ who inhabit the inner workings of the Tree, and sometimes the ‘dead-but-walking’ venture outside the Tree. To go into further explanation about the Tree dwellers might be construed as spoilers, so I’ll stop now.
For a fantasy, Ms Warren’s attention to detail in her world building is well done. She balances description between the island Botanica, the Tree and the people while focusing the majority of the story on Lillah. It is Lillah’s quest to find her place through her observations and experiences during the five year walk around the Tree. Throughout her journey, complex human issues are explored in relation to the Tree and these are integral to understanding Lillah and her relationships with her friends, Morace and the people in the communities.
A nice touch at the end of the book were the notes Ms Warren made on how she developed Botanica and the story. There were aspects in her notes that should have been in the novel to assist the reader in understanding the story in more detail.
At the end of the story there is an online link to read a novella about Morace, Lillah’s half-brother, and his account of the walking around the Tree. I found this to be a great accompaniment to this interesting novel.
I found this book to be entertaining, though slow in spots due to lack of further development. This is my interpretation, and others who read this book may find it exactly to their liking.