BOOK REPORT for The Pearl Thief (Code Name Verity #0.5) by Elizabeth Wein

Cover Story: Go On, Take The Money and Run
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: I Capture the Castle
Bonus Factors: Crumbling Aristocracy, Sweet Ride, History’s Mysteries
Relationship Status: It’s Like Being In Love, Discovering Your Best Friend

Cover Story: Go On, Take The Money and Run

I neither love nor hate this cover, which, at least, has the sporty red MG that Julie gets to drive, and matches the more recent Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire paperbacks. It looks like she’s off on some crazy caper, which isn’t entirely inaccurate.

The Deal:

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In the summer of 1938, fifteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart returns to her ancestral home. Her granddad has just passed away, and while the estate is being packed, catalogued, and sold, she’s looking forward to one last summer in the beautiful surroundings.

What’s that they say about the best-laid plans? Julie’s go awry when she’s hit over the head by a mystery attacker and left for dead. Luckily, some Scottish Travellers find her and get her the help she needs. When she wakes up, she remembers only vague scenes from her attack. Now a man is missing, along with a priceless treasure from her grandfather’s collection, and the Travellers are being unfairly blamed for it. This simply will not do…

Elizabeth Wein has written an “origin story” for an already-beloved character, which makes perfect sense and yet is still perfectly surprising.

BFF Charm: Yay!

I already liked Julie in Code Name Verity, of course, so I suspected I would also like her in her earlier years. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how captivating she would be outside of her devil-may-care spy days. This book deals with so many different transformations in Julie’s life, from turning sixteen, to her sudden awareness of her privileged background, to her budding sexuality. She’s finally seeing the adults around her for who they really are, not just what they represent, and all the while, she’s saying goodbye to a beloved childhood home. That’s enough turmoil for years, let alone one summer, but Julie pulls it off with sass and style.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

The focus of the book is primarily on the mystery and the horrendous way the Travellers are treated—but there are several fiery moments waiting for you inside.

Talky Talk: I Capture the Castle

Although The Pearl Thief centers around a mystery, Julie’s precocious voice gave me serious I Capture the Castle vibes. (This is a good thing, because I adored that book.) Julie doesn’t have a diary, like Cassandra, but she does have some commentary on everything and everyone. It’s especially amusing when she starts realizing that while, yes, many people find her charisma appealing, she’s also guilty of being self-centered and spoiled. Wein makes writing this self-discovery all seem effortless.

As a narrator, Julie has dry humor and enthusiasm in spades. For example, when Julie learns she may have been witness to a murder:

"Perhaps I'm a witness!" I said, relishing the idea.
No one else relished it.

Bonus Factor: Crumbling Aristocracy

There’s something romantic about a crumbling aristocracy, from their once-grand homes to the titles-in-name-only. The Earl of Strathfearn, Julie’s granddad, was so deeply in debt that his ancestral home had to be sold off and turned into a school. Tragic for the family, yes, but also a boon to those without the benefit of their bloodline.

Bonus Factor: Sweet Ride

As pictured on the cover, Julie gets to drive her mother’s sporty red convertible. It figures that Julie would get to experience the “first driver’s license” portion of young adulthood in a far more fashionable way than the rest of us.

Bonus Factor: History’s Mysteries

There’s a lot to love about this book, but one of the best parts is the care with which Julie, her friends, and her family treat historical artifacts. A bracelet that once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, is treated with the sort of reverence one might associate with holy relics. As a history nerd, I totally get it. It follows, then, that when an intriguing historical aspect of the Who Bashed Julie Over The Head mystery pops up, everyone treats the resulting discoveries with great honor and respect. (I hate that I have to be so vague, but spoiling this book would be a crime.) As always, Wein includes a detailed author’s note and selected bibliography.

Casting Call:

Joanna Vanderham as Julie

She might be a bit too old to play a sixteen-year-old, but Joanna is Scottish and has the classic beauty/baby face that I pictured for Julie.

Relationship Status: It’s Like Being In Love, Discovering Your Best Friend

Book, you had it all: history, mystery, and a plucky heroine with charm and enough concern for every downtrodden person on earth. I went into our date expecting one plot direction, but came out realizing that any other story line would have been a crime. You stand alone, yet managed to make Code Name Verity even more poignant. How this is possible, I don’t know—but I do know that historical fiction fans will discover a new best friend in this book.

The Pearl Thief is available now.

Jennie lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness for historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.