Title: The Pearl Thief
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Series: Code Name Verity #0 (prequel)
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
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.
Note: This review contains NO spoilers for other books set in the Code Name Verity universe.
I adored both Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, despite them being very different books both tonally and narratively. That was why I was so excited about this, as from the summary you can tell it won’t feature the war and be a much quiet kind of story. I genuinely thought that I would be blown away by this even if the general plot didn’t really grab my attention. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
Let me get the good out of the way first. Julie is just an incredible character to read about. She is still as brave and funny and Scottish as the Julie we meet in CNV, but she’s also a lot younger. Wein nails this younger Julie’s voice perfectly. To me, seeing Julie again was the best part of the whole book. There is some clear character growth in the book as it is a more coming-of-age story than the rest of the series, and it never undermines Julie’s arc in CNV. I don’t want to call this book unnecessary because I think there is value in coming-of-age stories, but it doesn’t add a whole lot when you know where everything is headed…
Like The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Wein also highlights the diversity of its historical setting. Much of the book is devoted to Julie dealing with her privilege as she befriends the Travellers, though their voices are always taken into consideration. There’s also a partially deaf character and bisexual representation!!!
Wein captures the period very well. As always, you get the feeling there was a lot of careful research put into this. Scotland before the war is vividly portrayed, with a keen eye for details of its history from Mary Queen of Scots to river pearls. Despite Wein’s talent at translating the past for modern readers, I was not interested in the topics she chose to focus the novel on. I could not care for the pearls which are the driving force of the whole plot. Maybe if I was better versed into Scottish history, I would have enjoyed this more, but alas, it made me bored throughout most of it.
The plot itself was my main issue. The characters weren’t very interested in the mystery itself for most of the book, so what little tension there was decreased even more. I have no problem with summery books where the characters just hang out and have fun, but it was not what I was expecting from this book or the author that brought us Code Name Verity. There was also the fact that Julie was violently assaulted and left unconscious for three days, and yet she doesn’t seem to care that much? The stakes barely felt personal when they should have been what drove the plot. Also I was let down by the reveals at the end.
Most of all, this book made me really want to reread Code Name Verity.