The Pearl Thief (Code Name Verity #0)
By: Elizabeth Wein
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017
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.
When I heard that Elizabeth Wein was continuing the Code Name Verity series via a prequel about Julie, I was over the moon. Julie is, after all, the character that really makes that story what it is. But at the same time, I was a little nervous. In my research about WWII, I learned that most of the people who did extraordinary things (as Julie did in Code Name Verity) were often unable to find a niche in peacetime. I also wasn’t sure how Julie would manage without someone like Maddie to be her translator.
As it happens, most of my fears were unfounded. But I was still a little disappointed–this is a lingering thing, but in my opinion Elizabeth Wein hit her peak with Code Name Verity. The Pearl Thief is lovely, but it’s simply not on that level. Still, if this were part of any other series, I’d be perfectly content with it.
For one, we’re introduced to a sixteen-year-old Julie, really just figuring out the extent to her rebelliousness, as well as a few other things. She’s very much a teenager, lacking the rock-hard certainty that sends Verity sailing through so many stormy seas–but there are hints of that iron will there, and her unorthodoxy very much shines through. She’s just as willing to stick up for the underdog and fight the hopeless battles, too. I appreciated the extent to which Elizabeth Wein did really think about Julie’s character development–it seemed very thought-out, the extent to which she’d taken twenty-one year old Julie and backtracked her just enough.
And, although the mystery story felt a little rote in places (a concussion? really?) it turned out interesting enough, with a few twists and turns that never felt too sudden. It was certainly a well-grounded story, providing solid evidence and refusing to give into wild flights of fancy. I think I most enjoyed the interaction with the Travelers the most–having Julie explore the life they lived and the extent of the prejudices against them was interesting and informative. The role that the river pearls played was also quite interesting, especially with the connection to Mary Stuart. But the plot felt slow and meandering at first, and only picked up towards the end, when the seemingly straight line fell apart. Still, when things did start getting interesting, they got interesting enough to make the first ¾ of the book worth it.
The part that places The Pearl Thief into solidly four-star territory is actually the love story for me. I know, this has to be a first, but I REALLY appreciated how the story dealt with Julie’s exploration of her sexuality. Code Name Verity painted Julie as solidly straight, or at least able to charm any man into doing her bidding–but the Pearl Thief gives us a glance of a shyer Julie, still aware of how men are attracted to her, but at the same time realizing her attraction to women. Although she does this in several different ways, I thought that the bond between her and Ellen–the combination of challenge, and friendship, and exploration–was exceptionally well-done. And also fun, their sexual explorations never take precedence over what becomes a solid friendship. I also liked how The Pearl Thief set up Ellen’s brother Euan as the obvious love interest, and then did a switcheroo there.
All in all, though, this book was a solidly good story, with just enough mystery, and a fun spice of romance, in there. Although it took me some time to really get into the book, I closed it feeling very satisfied, and glad that I’d bought it for my bookshelf.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.