ARC Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 4 May 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

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Synopsis from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation. Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: I have been eyeing up Ms Wein’s books for some time now especially Code Name Verityher wartime book that I’m told portrays the endurance of friendship during times of difficulty. The Pear Thief is actually billed as a prequel of Code Name Verity but it can definitely be read as a standalone which is what I did.

The Pearl Thief is set in rural Scotland and honestly this book made me fall head over heels with the landscape because Wein’s descriptive language and setting was so evocative. I will confess that there were quite a few words that were totally new to a born and bred Londoner like me (burn – which I think is Gaelic for ‘fresh water’ for example) so some of the descriptions weren’t the easiest for me to visualise but despite this I was able to get an idea of the gorgeous highlands and grand country house that Lady Julia lived in – testament to Wein’s writing definitely! I will say though, this is one of those books where a map at the beginning would have done wonders and perhaps a glossary for idiots like me 🙂

The river has a voice that doesn’t die. It is as inhuman and ancient as starlight.

Lady Julia our protagonist was an interesting character. I didn’t immediately take to her but she grew on me as the book went on. I liked how adventurous and gutsy she was and willing to be open-minded and experimental even if society frowned upon it. Her friendship and dynamic with Ellen was easily my favourite – it was complex and a lovely surprise in a historical YA book! There was quite a cast of secondary characters but as The Pearl Thief is told from the Julia’s perspective, I felt we didn’t get to delve into their personalities as much as I’d have liked to – especially the McEwens and Mary who stood out.

Wein wove in societal issues like discrimination against the traveller community, rape and poverty in a really subtle way and gave an insight into what life was like in rural Scotland during that period of history. The discrimination theme was eerily timely and a little frightening how many parallels I could draw between Britain in the 1930s and 2017! One of the unique things about The Pearl Thief was the premise: the Strathfearn family estate being sold to private developers – a part of history that is oft-overlooked. The sexier Downton Abbey-esque era definitely gets more attention and so it was intereting to see a teenager dealing with a drastic change of fortune. I enjoyed seeing Lady Julia rise above her title and circumstances and discover her privilege but also we’re not all that different – be it Lady or traveller.  

They were the ‘dirty bold sleekit tinkers’. They were not dirty, did not appear to be all that bold, and it remained to be seen how sneaky they were. In fact, I was floored by the girl’s beauty.

The mystery and plot of The Pearl Thief definitely kept me guessing. I managed to figure out some of it right towards the end but was still pleasantly surprised at the reveal. I loved that the mystery had a solid story behind it, the pearls were given significance and a history which made it all the more interesting. However, I felt the pacing of The Pearl Thief could’ve been better. I definitely think the book could either have been shorter and punchier or instead just gone the whole hog and had more detail about the other characters – instead it was somewhere down the middle and had me at times just wanting to return to the central mystery.

Besides some minor issues, The Pearl Thief was a solid historical YA with a unique setting not often found in young adult lit. Wein’s descriptive language really added authenticity and the mystery was good whodunnit that kept you guessing. If you’re after something with a great heroine like Pullman’s classic Sally Lockhart series or Y. S. Lee’s brilliant The Agency series this one’s for you! The Pearl Thief is out on 4 May in the US and UK. Thanks again to Bloomsbury for the ARC 🙂

Are you planning to read The Pearl Thief? Or have some other brilliant YA historical/mystery recs? Let me know in the comments below!

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