Book Review: Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter

As I dived, other lights came floating down too, passing like silk parachutes in the half-light. I looked up and I could see a whole ensemble of jellyfish there, fiery tentacles long and swaying in the current.

Lizzie Pook ~ Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter


Western Australia, 1886.

After months at sea, a slow boat makes its passage from London to the shores of Bannin Bay. From the deck, young Eliza Brightwell and her family eye their strange, new home. Here is an unforgiving land where fortune sits patiently at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be claimed by those brave enough to venture into its depths. An ocean where pearl shells bloom to the size of soup plates, where men are coaxed into unthinkable places and unspeakable acts by the promise of unimaginable riches.

Ten years later, the pearl-diving boat captained by Eliza’s eccentric father returns after months at sea – without Eliza’s father on it. Whispers from townsfolk point to mutiny or murder. Headstrong Eliza knows it’s up to her to discover who, or what, is really responsible.

As she searches for the truth, Eliza discovers that beneath the glamorous veneer of the pearling industry, lies a dark underbelly of sweltering, stinking decay. The sun-scorched streets of Bannin Bay, a place she once thought she knew so well, are teeming with corruption, prejudice, and blackmail. Just how far is Eliza willing to push herself in order to solve the mystery of her missing father? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way?


While there are many people who enjoy reading for the pleasure of beautiful words, this is not always enough to create a good book. Poetry provides a certain magic when it comes to reading, but without a plot and strong characters the story often loses its way.

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter has a long title and this sets the tone for the entire book. It’s overwritten, with excessive description, considering the lack of plot. If one were to remove the many layers of adjectives, we would not be left with much. Many will love this lyrical text, but it plods, rather than flows, which is a shame.

It begins with a sense of mystery and promise of adventure on the Seven Seas. Instead we get a ramble around a small town of Australia, with no real conclusion.

Nature lovers will adore it, but for those of us less interested in sea creatures and poisonous beasts, the many diary entries are just another irritation. They add nothing to the story, but more words and pages.

Characters – of which there are many – lack development and feel neglected. Eliza is pitched as feisty and while we glimpse this at times, for the most part she is rather naïve and boring.

Yet the book is by no means awful; it has a certain charm, despite its unnecessary length and I did enjoy parts of it. The topic itself is fascinating and there are moments of profound insight and research, providing information on a profession that is often overlooked. The cruelties of life for the Aboriginals in Australia are stark and horrific; Pook’s description here is vital and raw.

Pook is a good writer, but the flowery, descriptive way of narration, just isn’t for me. However, if you enjoyed The Paper Palace and Crawdads, then I urge you to buy and read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Book provided by Mantle Books as part of a tour with Random Things Tours. Opinions my own.

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