Book review: The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley


4/5 stars.

Lucinda Riley strikes again. I’m continuously impressed by this author – by the meticulous research that goes into each and every book, her productivity, and her ability to write incredibly absorbing and engaging stories. This was another book I lost myself in for a few days, and I felt sad when it was over.

In this instalment we follow the fourth sister, CeCe, as she goes to Australia via Thailand to find her roots. She is a globetrotter who has always avoided Australia because of her terrible fear of – and nightmares about – spiders. Relatable. Australia is on my bucket list, but cost is not the only thing keeping me away… Just the thought of spiders the size of my hand makes me involuntarily convulse and want to vomit. Is something crawling on me?? No? Are you sure??

Anyway… we’ve already heard quite a bit about CeCe in the third book and about how her and Star’s codependent relationship seemed to have worked harmoniously up until the death of their adoptive father – both providing each other with the support they needed. CeCe speaking for Star, and Star helping her to read and write in return as CeCe suffers quite badly from dyslexia.

I’d been saving this book for my long Christmas/winter holiday, but when I picked it up I realised there was another reason I’d been postponing it: I didn’t really like CeCe. She seemed extremely dominant, moody, needy and oblivious to the needs of others. Though I didn’t like the way Star treated her in the third book, I also felt that CeCe really failed to understand what Star wanted and was constantly crossing her boundaries.

Of course I knew there’d be two sides to the story and that I’d probably see CeCe’s perspective and understand her motivations once I started her story – I just wasn’t convinced I’d actually like her. But I do. I still have some issues with her, but I understand that her bossiness stems from trying to protect and take care of her sister (and herself), as well as from a lack of confidence.

Now, about that last bit… This is really the thing that irks me. I get having poor self-esteem. I’ve swam in those waters and nearly drowned. In fact I’m still just keeping my head above the surface. But I kind of feel like statements like “of course he doesn’t fancy me because I’m ugly” are too immature for someone in their mid to late twenties. I’d expect her insecurities to be more nuanced. It’s not the only thing that makes CeCe come off as a little dumb, but it’s maybe the most jarring. I get that she is not an academic and that she can’t read and write much because of her dyslexia, but there seems to be something more to it. Some times she appears to be almost emotionally underdeveloped, and if intentional it’s at least never really explained – as I feel was the case with Star’s issues with speaking and generally relating to people.

Overall though I was left with understanding and compassion for CeCe, and there are definitely aspects of her that I can strongly relate to, like her love of being outdoors and in nature, and her love of painting. In fact, reading about how CeCe reconnected with painting and how she basically went into a trance-like state while creating, was one of the things that inspired me to pick up my oil pastels and start drawing again.

The past story in The Pearl Sister, revolves around Kitty McBride (soon to be Mercer), who is pretty much forced to leave her family home near Edinburgh, Scotland to start a new life in Australia. As usual I was first annoyed when I was dragged from the present story about CeCe just when it was getting really interesting, a hundred years into the past with a (obviously) completely different cast of characters and setting. But just like with the other books I very quickly got sucked into this story as well.

Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Kitty stays with and eventually marries into a prosperous family, mainly invested in pearl fishing. As usual there’s a lot of tragedy and loss. Again I feel like one of these tragedies could easily have been avoided if people had stopped to think through their choices a little. So I found that part slightly unsatisfying but am a little more willing to accept it in this book than the last.

In both the past and present story you get immersed in life in Australia, including problematic race relations, and aboriginal traditions and art – which was really interesting.

I found both the then and now stories engaging and well constructed, full of colourful characters, drama, love, loss and of course again strong women. You also get some more background on the legend of the seven sisters, and a few more hints as to the overall story arc and the mysterious Pa Salt.

I enjoyed CeCe’s development, and felt like she ended up being a more nuanced and confident person overall, she really grew up a lot. The relationship with Chrissie is interesting and sweet as well. I do feel like the Ace story maybe took up too much time and made me slightly impatient towards the end, but for all I know it could play into the Master Plan somehow. And it’s not like it was uninteresting.

The Tiggy chapter at the end of the book was very dramatic. I’m bummed I’ll probably have to wait close to a year for the rest of the story, but I’m definitely getting it as soon as it arrives.




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