The Book of Pearl weaves together elements of fantasy and real life [Review]


Ilian is the second son of a mad king and his older brother is out to kill him, and it's just the beginning of his problems

John Millen |

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The Book of Pearl
By Timothée de Fombelle
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 978 1 4063 6462 0

It’s great to finish the Young Post reading year with a YA novel as outstanding as Timothée de Fombelle’s The Book of Pearl.

De Fombelle is an award-winning French author and playwright whose novels Toby Alone, Toby and the Secret of the Tree and Vango have been translated into 28 languages and won numerous prestigious awards.

His latest novel is, quite simply, a stunning example of the power of quality storytelling that will entrance young adult readers. The Book of Pearl follows three very different characters in a twisting story that moves through time and place.

In the story’s opening pages, a 14 year-old boy runs bleeding and confused through a dark forest. Who is he? What’s going on? De Fombelle goes on to reveal all through exquisite storytelling.

In a magical kingdom far away, Ilian is the second son of a mad king. His older brother is intent on killing him because of blind jealousy.

Ilian is in love with Olia, a beautiful fairy who is willing to give up her powers for true love. Ian, Ilian’s brother, orders an evil genie to murder the young prince. But the genie decides to banish Ilian and Olia to Earth.

Most of the plot in The Book of Pearl takes place in the human world, weaving historical events with fiction. Olia and Ilian arrive in France in 1936 when they are banished from the Kingdoms.

Ilian is at first adopted by a French couple who own a marshmallow shop. But France is about to be invaded by German troops and the country will soon be more dangerous than the magical Kingdom Ilian has left.

The book’s human narrator, the boy we first met stumbling through the forest, is drawn into Ilian and Olia’s story completely by chance.

That night, lost in the forest, he comes across the home of an old man called Joshua Pearl. The hut is full of suitcases containing carefully wrapped trinkets that Pearl has collected during his life. Who is this Joshua Pearl, and what is the mystery that has brought him to this lonely spot in the forest? Will all the pieces of the puzzle in The Book of Pearl ever come together?

Each chapter in de Fombelle’s masterful novel throws up questions, but also moves the plot towards a thrilling conclusion to all three strands of the story.

Curses, villains, magic, marshmallows, mystery and the events of the second world war are all woven together into this intricate novel, expertly translated by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon.

The Book of Pearl finishes the Young Post reading year on an exceptionally high note. This is YA fiction at its best.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge