Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC!
The Pearl Thief was a book I especially enjoyed for the characters (Julie and the supporting characters were all fantastic), the overall plot, and the historical period with the Scottish setting. Whilst the mystery could have improved in some aspects, it’s nevertheless a book I’d recommend.
Having read Code Name Verity made some aspects of Julie’s life, personality and character development more interesting, but otherwise, it won’t detract from anything if you read this without being familiar with it.
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.
Julie and her character development
- First off, the text makes it pretty clear that Julie’s queer (bisexual from what I gather). Was great to see this represented!
- I loved how her voice throughout the book was distinctive and immersive. She’s clearly different from and much younger and less experienced than in Code Name Verity, but her voice, wit and humour were so distinctly reflective of her delightful personality
- Julie’s character arc throughout the story involved the experience of her expanding her worldview, gaining an understanding of the prejudice faced by her friends (the McEwens, who are Scottish Travellers — more on them below), and how she reflects on her economically & socially privileged position in comparison to them when they are unfairly blamed. Whilst I usually shy away from such narratives, here it was done in a nuanced and respectful way which made me appreciate how it turned Julie into who she becomes later on. So overall, it was a compelling part of her character development.
The supporting characters
- Not only Julie, but the other supporting characters were fantastic and distinctive
- Ellen and Euan McEwen were definitely the most fascinating and holistic characters out of the supporting cast. I loved how intelligent and independent they were, and the way their relationships with Julie developed as they worked together was fun to read about. This was especially true for Ellen, whose attitude towards Julie shifts throughout the book. The scene where the two of them to see a show together was a lot of fun.
- Julie’s brother Jamie was such a delight, and I loved the supportive relationship between the two of them.
- Mary Kinnaird was also admirable (in spite of her flawed actions near the beginning of the book, which are addressed) and the ‘villain’ characters were realistically frightening.
- There was a good set-up for the mystery in this story — a flashback at the beginning of the book was intriguing and tied in well with the substantive part of the plot
- The rest of the first part of the mystery, however, could have been better. After the main incident which starts it off and leaves Julie in hospital, part of the mystery involves an amnesia storyline, which I wasn’t a fan of (clichéd and often leads to convenient revelations)
- The rest of the book did make up for this with additional clues and revelations. The ending, whilst not entirely unpredictable, did involve a few twists that surprised me. It also wrapped everything up well, which I really appreciated.
- Additionally, something The Pearl Thief did really well was how the transitions between the mystery plot and the character-focused aspects of the book were seamlessly woven together.
The setting and time period
- I’m not familiar with the Scottish setting of this book, so this was really interesting to read about. Distinctive aspects of their surroundings (the rivers, fields, castle and villages) and experiences were written beautifully and made the story unique
- The dialogue and writing seemed to reflect the time period better than Code Name Verity did; as someone who loves historical fiction, I really liked this.
Overall, The Pearl Thief was a fun dip back into Julie’s character, within an interesting plot and setting. It’s fairly different in tone from Code Name Verity, but in a way that fit the character and storyline, and I recommend it for other historical fiction/mystery readers.
Related recommendations: the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens, set in 1930s England, is a great middle grade mystery series (with a Hong Kong Chinese narrator/one of the protags). The A Tyranny of Petticoats anthology is another great one about young women in historical times. I’ve had Y.S. Lee’s A Spy in the House and the rest of the Agency mystery series on my radar for a while (also an Asian protag and author, yaaaay).
Have you read The Pearl Thief or any of Elizabeth Wein’s other books before? What did you think of them? Are there other historical mysteries or historical books focused on young women which you’ve read or would like to read?