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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Pearl Thief: Elizabeth Wein Prequel Vindicates Scottish Travellers

This is a revised and expanded version of a post I wrote for Flying High Reviews.

I've read two books by Elizabeth Wein dealing with female pilots, and
reviewed one of them here. Wein created some memorable women and girls flying planes in  Rose Under Fire  and Black Dove, White Raven.

 I do need to point out that Julie, the central character of The Pearl Thief , isn't a pilot.  She's the spy protagonist of Wein's Code Name Verity which I didn't read because it was written in a way that didn't hold my attention.  There's supposed to be a movie in development.  If this film ever manifests, I suspect I will like it better than the book.

The Pearl Thief  is a prequel about Julie's early life in Scotland.  So why would I want to read the prequel to a book I didn't even like, and why would I think the review should be posted to this blogYou'll have to read my review to find out the answer to these questions, but I'll tell you right now that I did read every wonderful page of The Pearl Thief.


The main reason why I wanted to read The Pearl Thief is because British Travellers are prominent in the plot.  Travellers are often confused with the Romani who are now believed to have originated in India.  Travellers are native to Britain.  They were also called Tinkers because they mended pots and kettles, but the term Tinker was used as an insult. I was astonished to read in this book that Tinker Bell was given that name to show that she was "a low class fairy".  James Barrie, the creator of Tinker Bell, was showing his prejudice against Travellers through this character's name.  Elizabeth Wein serves up intriguing snippets of the history and culture of Travellers in this novel.  I'd love to find out more, and I can by obtaining one of the books she consulted on the subject listed in her bibliography at the back of the book.
There are several strong female characters in The Pearl Thief.  First and foremost is the Traveller girl, Ellen, who braves prejudice and abuse whenever she tangles with people in authority. Because I believe strongly in defending access to libraries, one of my favorite Ellen scenes is when she faces down the prejudiced librarian who wants to kick her out for being a "Tinker".  She tells the librarian, "It's a public library.  Nobody need get your permission to come in when it's open." Travellers are actually equivalent to the homeless of contemporary society.  There is controversy in the public library community about rules that prevent the homeless from having access to public libraries. So this scene in The Pearl Thief is quite relevant to contemporary readers.  Another strong female character is Ellen's dog Pinky who also exhibits bravery in the face of any threat to Ellen.  Finally, the protagonist Julie is willing to challenge convention by calling Travellers friends and defending them.  She also occasionally dressed in a man's kilt and called herself "Davey Balfour".  This is a literary reference.   I was a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson as a child, so I recognized the name instantly.  David Balfour was the teen protagonist of Stevenson's adventure novel, Kidnapped.

Another reason why I wanted to read this latest book by Elizabeth Wein is that it's a mystery beginning as a missing person case.   I am a fan of the mystery genre and this one involves several surprising twists. So this is an absorbing and well constructed mystery with great characters and a strong statement against prejudice.  I expect this to be one of my best reads of 2017.



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