Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Title: The Pearl Thief
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: Code Name Verity #.5
Pages: 336
Published: May 2 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.25/5

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 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.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this exhilarating coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort Stuart is a memorable character. Anyone who has read Elizabeth Wein's heartbreaking Code Name Verity from a few years back will likely never forget Queenie and  "Fly the plane!" and her bravery in the face of inhuman evil. Now Elizabeth Wein has returned to Julie's story, but in a small-town plot set years before WWII and in her favorite home of Scotland. Though this new prequel is centered on a familiar face, it's a far different kind of story than the one in CNV or even Rose Under Fire. The Pearl Thief's scope is narrower; it fits more in the mystery/thriller genre than straight historical fiction and though it's character-driven for a large part of the novel, none of them capture the dynamism of Julie herself.

I liked The Pearl Thief enough to finish reading but there's no denying it largely lacks the emotional punch of Wein's other novels, especially the one also featuring Julie as a POV narrator. (This also succeeds in part purely because of leftover affection for those previous books.) This is the story of her coming of age in a lot of ways - emotionally, sexually, and socially. You can see early flashes of the woman she'll become when she partners with Maddie here; her fight for her Traveller friends and her drive to do what's right are as much a part of her at 16 as they are later on. With Ellen's challenging and Euan's support she grows and changes and challenges her own ideas. I truly loved Julie -- and seeing her become herself is one of the best parts of reading The Pearl Thief. Also: canonically bi Julie! Yes!

As much as I appreciate the expansion of Julie's character and history, part of the issue here is that the eventual outcomes for key people are already known (the risk of a prequel, tbh) which makes it hard to become emotionally invest AGAIN in the same character (fun to see a young, silly Jamie, though!). I can't wholly commit and invest in Julie's happiness and hope when I've read CNV and RUF already. Another issue is that the side characters that share focus don't get developed and defined to the same level as Julie. I liked Ellen and her total refusal to be easy-going or friendly, but Euan has little presence and no personality. The inclusion of Mary Kinnaird, a character with Treacher Collins syndrome is a first for me, though I liked less her status as a minor antagonist. The various romantic entanglements are not my favorite (I am all for Julie's kissing boys and girls but ffs don't kiss boys and girls who are SIBLINGS.) but appreciated the diversity.

Because the book is rather slow-moving when it comes to pacing and setting up the mystery, the reveal of the actual pearl thief villain feels way too drawn-out. By the time it's shown on page, it lacks impact because there are very little other options for the story to go. Aside from those issues, I loved that the novel took pains to touch and address prejudice, abuse of power, and discrimination. The setting is vivid and detailed - Wein is an author adept at setting the stage. I just wished the secondary cast had the definition of Julie or that the central mystery plot was more engaging.


  1. lol your spoiler. Yeah, you know as much as I loved Code Named Verity and Rose Under Fire I never really got excited for this one for some reason. I might read it some day but it's definitely not on my priority list. Lovely review though. :)

    1. I was NOT OKAY with that. It's just.. lazy to me, lol.
      And yesss same - I was nowhere near as excited or as involved with this one. It's a good book, but it's nowhere in the same league as CNV especially.


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