Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter***-****

3.5 stars rounded upwards. My thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the review copy. This book is for sale now.

Eliza has always been close to her father, a man that runs a fleet of pearling vessels. Her mother is gone, so it’s only Eliza, her father, and her brother. Then one day, the fleet comes back, but her father isn’t with it. He’s gone missing! Did he fall overboard? No, not that anybody saw, but if he isn’t on the ships, it seems the logical explanation.

For a variety of reasons, Eliza doesn’t believe it. She is determined to find him herself; yet to do so, she must go places and do things that are absolutely unacceptable for a woman in Western Australia in 1886. Fortunately—and conveniently—a young German man wants to go these same places, and he accompanies her. From there, things proceed in about the way you might expect.

Other reviewers that came before me say that this story is beautifully written, but terribly sad. I steel myself, but though the story is melancholy in places, I don’t find it depressing. However, I am also less impressed than I anticipated.

The good: I love the setting, and the setting plays a large role in this tale. Australian pearl divers! I have never read anything like this before, and I learn some things. I have never thought before about how the pearls that jewelers sell are collected. Though I would imagine that the process has changed over the past 150 years, it is still interesting to me. Along the same lines, I appreciate the amount of detail in the author’s notes.

On the other hand, the character development is underwhelming. Neither Eliza nor Axel is much different at the ending of the story than at the start. Eliza is a bit wiser, and she has learned things about her father and brother that had been kept from her before, but I can’t call hers a dynamic character; Axel is even less so. The same applies to the quality of the writing. It isn’t bad, but after the buildup, I expected it to be better than this. But the worst thing is a plot twist, right within the climax, that is jaw-droppingly improbable. My mother used to warn me that if I roll my eyes up into my head, they may stay there, so I am grateful to have emerged from this novel with my vision intact. Ohhh, brother.

So for a bit I consider that this is a three star read, but the resolution involving Eliza and Axel is very nicely done, and it wins me back enough to round it up to four. I recommend this book to those interested in the setting.