- 266 pages
- Released June 2022
- Debut Novel
- Historical Fiction
- Set in Australia
- Features a Quest
- Slow Burn Romance
- Dual POV
Eliza Brightwell’s family is from London, but when word on the street is that Australia is the place to be, the entire family moves in the hopes of making a fortune from the pearl trade. Taking place in the Industrial Era, Moonlight and The Pearler’s Daughter follows Eliza as she steps foot in a new place–a place that just might make or break her family.
As the story progresses, we’re taken 10 years forward, when Eliza goes to meet her father’s pearling boat at the dock. Except, as the crew starts to disembark, it becomes clear that her father isn’t on the boat and no one knows what happened to him. Determined to find her father, with nothing more than an inkling that he’s still alive, Eliza sets sail on a new adventure. With the help of her friend Min, and her new male friend, Axel, Eliza searches for the truth of what really happened to her father.
Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is a story of adventure, romance, corruption, and secrets.
If you’ve been following my blog for literally ANY length of time, you know just how much I love debut novels. I picked up this one because of it’s unique plotline, hoping that it would be a hidden gem, just like the pearl. But, I didn’t love Moonlight and The Pearler’s Daughter.
Before I even get into my review of the content, I have to say something about this title. The title is unnecessarily long and it isn’t even until the last quarter of the book that we learn the meaning of the “Moonlight” aspect, which isn’t entirely relevant to the plotline. Honestly, this book would have been better dropping the first part and just being called “The Pearler’s Daughter.”
That being said, I would expect this book to be about pearling, right? Wrong. While I admire what this book was trying to do, as someone who knows absolutely nothing about the history of pearls and pearling in the Industrial Revolution, I wanted to learn. The sad thing about this novel is that even with context clues, I ended up googling SO much of the first quarter of this book that I had a hard time getting into the plot. I had to continually put the book down and look things up because I had no clue what they were. Words like “lugger” and “cajeput” need to be described so that readers can at least get the gist of what they mean.
I think I understand what Pook was trying to do here. Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is meant to be immersive, in a way that you feel that you’re walking right next to Eliza in Australia, instead of reading about it. Yet, I felt the book was just trying too hard. There were so many crucial aspects of the exposition and rising action in this book that were just…missing. Characters were poorly described, the environment was overly vivid, and there wasn’t enough happening.
That being said, this book does pick up toward the last 100 pages of the book when Eliza is searching for her father. While I won’t spoil what happens, those 100 pages are the entirety of action that takes place in Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter.
Then, there’s the aspect of the dual POV. The novel follows Eliza’s quest as an adult, but it also shows memories of when she was younger. Many of these memories are of her father, which I believe are intended to help the reader understand why it’s so crucial that she rescues him. Then, we also have the POV of Parker, who is the law officer looking for the family friend, Balarri, who’s being accused of murder, even though there’s absolutely zero evidence that Eliza’s father was murdered, and Balarri was far from the boat to begin with (I never did figure out why he was as suspect, other than assumed prejudice). On top of this, we also have the journal entries from Eliza’s father’s diary. The entries focus on a new animal that he’s recording (a different one for each entry), but they have life lessons weaved into them, as well.
The interesting thing about this novel is that the book supposedly focuses on prejudice, feminism, and corruption for the timeline. Yet, this didn’t take a central role to the novel and when these topics were brought up, they weren’t well explored. For example, Eliza meets her (very male) friend/romantic interest, Axel, who is supposed to help her get into places in town that only a man can go, so that she can investigate. Except, in this time, a young, unwed Eliza wouldn’t be parading around with a man without a chaperone–she would have an older female chaperone nearby watching, unless they were married. Because the town of Bannin Bay is so small, and Eliza knows many of the women in the wealthier inner circles, I find it hard to believe that the town wouldn’t notice that she was hanging out with a mysterious new man as an unwed female.
I do think that corruption is a topic that’s a little better described in this book than prejudice and feminism, but it’s also not entirely explored until the last section of the novel when the action really begins. I would have liked to see better descriptions about the corruption of the pearling trade in Moonlight and The Pearler’s Daughter, particularly from the beginning aspects when Eliza talks about how her family got into the trade. It’s not really clear what brought her father from being destitute to owning his own boat(s?).
Speaking of boats, something I wanted to add here is that Lizzie Pook does leave an interesting author’s note at the end that explains a little about the pearl trade, the luggers, and the “aborigines” (that play almost zero to no role in the book). While I would have liked more information to be at the forefront of the plot, I was glad she at least tried to address the history that we missed through Eliza’s story. Reading the author’s note, I was disappointed that this aspect wasn’t celebrated more–I would have loved to know more about the actual trade and the people who lived in Australia, at the time. At the very least, this author’s note should have been moved to the front of the book, instead of hiding away in the last few pages.
I think Moonlight and The Pearler’s Daughter was a good premise, but like some other books I’ve read this year, I think it fell flat at what it was trying to accomplish. There was just too much descriptive imagery for me and there were a lot of concepts and characters that weren’t fully developed, which left me wanting for more.
While Lizzie Pook clearly is well-traveled and must have spent an inordinate amount of time researching for this novel, I felt the writing could benefit from some more experienced eyes. The writing style was overdone, at times, and it felt a little like the college essay you write when you’re trying to impress the professor. I’m not sure Pook’s voice was totally captured, and I certainly didn’t feel that the story was captured as much as I’d like. That being said, Pook does do a great job at imagery and readers certainly will be satisfied with her descriptive imagery of 19th century Australia.
While this wasn’t my favorite book I’ve read this year, I think fans of Where the Crawdads Sing might enjoy this lesser known historical novel. If you’d like to purchase Moonlight and The Pearler’s Daughter for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.
Not sure what to read next? Check out my review from last week, Alex Michaelides’s The Maidens.