I received an e-arc of this book via NetGalley as part of the blog tour organised by Random Things Tours. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Published: March 2022
Fortune favours the brave …
It is 1886 and the Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune.
Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives, however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them.
A gloriously rich and wonderfully assured debut, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is set in a mesmerising yet unforgiving land, where both profit and peril lie deep beneath the ocean’s surface; rendered with astonishing clarity, it is a novel that marks Lizzie Pook as a name to watch.
Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is a wonderful debut that drew me in from the very beginning. Set in Australia at the end of the nineteenth century, this is one of those books that I loved not just for its characters and plot, but also for the setting and the chance to learn something new.
Eliza was a really compelling main character, with her fierce devotion to her family and the steely determination allowing her to keep rising up in the face of adversity and to continue pushing on in her quest to find her father. She is complex and flawed and ready to fight hard for her space in a world that doesn’t really consider women all that much. The rest of the characters felt a bit flat by comparison, but Eliza is the centre of the show so it didn’t really bother me all that much overall.
The setting and the historical period stole the spotlight a little, as they were both drawn in amazing detail. I was rather ignorant of the whole pearling business, so this was an excellent chance to be introduced to it and learn something new! I particularly appreciated how the author acknowledged native people and the harm caused to them by settlers. I felt like I also had a clear sense of social structures by the end of the book, and characters’ choices and behaviours mostly made sense within those.
Eliza’s search for her father pretty much takes up the whole book, and my enjoyment of it definitely came more from the setting and historical traits than from the plot itself. There were a few chapters set in the past, at the time of the Brightwell family’s arrival in Bannin Bay, which I hoped would continue throughout, but they were limited and the majority of the action took place at the time of Eliza’s father’s disappearance. This still made for an interesting read, but as it progressed it was at times not quite as engrossing as I’d have liked. I found the resolution slightly underwhelming, but that’s just personal taste! I really enjoyed seeing Eliza come into her own by the end of the book so that made up for any other minor disappointment.
Overall, this is a really great read and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of Lizzie Pook’s work in the future!