Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Pearl Thief - Elizabeth Wein

Summary: Before Verity…there was Julie.

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 Scottish 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. (Summary and image from

Review: Capitalizing on the success of Code Name: Verity, Elizabeth Wein takes us back to the world of Julie Stuart, providing a glimpse into the kind of girl it took to create our favorite ill-fated British spy. Julie Beaufort-Stuart is looking forward to a relaxing and bittersweet holiday from boarding school when she’s found unconscious by a stream on her grandfather’s estate. With no ability to ascertain her identity, she’s brought to the village hospital by two travelers (who we would call gypsies). It’s not until she learns of the extent of her injuries and as the missing memories start to resurface that she realizes that there is much more to her “accident” than she originally thought. 

This was a quick and fairly light-hearted read. While it didn’t pack the same punch or rise to the stimulating and ingenious twists of its predecessor, it was a quick, easy, perfect-for-summer book to pick up. To be frank, it took me about one-third of the book to realize that the main character was in fact the woman who would become Verity. Part of that could be on me and my quick reading, part of it was because the immaturity and impetuousness of Julie was hard to reconcile with Verity’s calculating, thought-out, brilliant ability to think and survive. I couldn’t tell if that was by design or if there was a bit of the “resting on the laurels” of Verity. The mystery itself wasn’t anything earth-shattering, even though there were two parts - the missing pearls of her grandfather, and the assailant who knocked Julie unconscious and left her for dead. It was intriguing to see the development of Julie’s theories and her discoveries, but again, it just failed to grip me the same way Wein has managed in the past. 

Julie and Verity are both impetuous, high-spirited, and easy with their affections. This time around, Julie’s object of affection is the beautiful, proud Ellen—the sister of the traveler who rescued her. The romance is handled like a summer crush, relatively PG but to be honest, it felt forced. I got the distinct and uncomfortable impression that the relationship was written as such in order to conform to current social expectations rather than because it’s how Julie would have acted of her own accord. To be honest, it’s not the same-sex relationship that bothered me as much as the feeling that Wein was pushing it on the characters to be hip, or edgy, or au courant. I’m a big fan of letting the writing stand on its own, and I didn’t quite feel like that was happening here.

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Same sex kissing, fairly gruesome discovery of a body, destruction of an ancient artifact (which really upset me more than anything else).

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