Book review: The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley

The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley
The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley
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From Rio de Janeiro and 1920s Paris to the icy beauty of Oslo and now the red, dusty heat of central Australia, every corner of the world has become a thrilling new adventure with master storyteller Lucinda Riley.

The Pearl Sister is the fourth saga in Riley’s ambitious, seven-book Seven Sisters series, an epic odyssey following six adopted young women seeking out their hidden heritage. Told through a breathtaking panorama of captivating stories, their fates and fortunes are painted on a broad canvas and all created from a vast sweep of the imagination.

Inspired by Riley’s fascination with the distinctive Pleiades star cluster, commonly known as the Seven Sisters, these spellbinding books are based loosely on the mythology surrounding the famous constellation, using recurring motifs and intriguing anagrams.

The novels – already optioned as a multi-season Hollywood TV series – bring together real history, cleverly woven time-slip plotlines and heart-stopping emotion as we follow the dramatic life journeys of the six very different D’Aplièse sisters, with the seventh sister always inexplicably missing.

Each woman was adopted as a baby by an elusive Swiss billionaire, known to them as Pa Salt, and each is in now in search of their true family history and following tantalising clues left to them after his mysterious death.

In The Pearl Sister, we get up close and personal with CeCe D’Aplièse, the prickly, awkward, insecure sister who has been at breaking point since the death of her beloved father.

CeCe has always felt herself an outsider in her family of charismatic, talented sisters. Her dyslexia holds her back and she recently dropped out of a London art college, believing that she couldn’t learn what they wanted to teach her.

And now Star, the one sister she has clung to all her life, has found a new life in Kent, leaving CeCe completely alone. In desperation, she decides to flee England and discover her past but the only clues she has are a black-and-white photograph and the name of Kitty Mercer, a woman pioneer who lived in Australia over one hundred years ago.

On the way to Sydney, CeCe heads to the one place where she felt close to being herself… the stunning beaches of Krabi in Thailand where she meets the mysterious Ace, a man as lonely as she is and whom she subsequently realises has a dark secret.

A century earlier, Kitty McBride, daughter of an Edinburgh clergyman, is given the opportunity to travel to Australia as the companion of the wealthy Katherine McCrombie. In Adelaide, Kitty’s fate becomes entwined with Mrs McCrombie’s powerful relatives, the wealthy Mercer family, including identical twins, impetuous Drummond and his older twin Andrew, an ambitious young man and heir to a pearling business fortune.

Australia, Kitty soon discovers, is a place where everyone ‘who reached its dusty red soil could reinvent themselves to be anyone they chose.’

And decades later, when she reaches that same searing heat and ‘hard, unforgiving red earth,’ CeCe feels instinctively that this land is somehow part of her. Her soul responds to the energy of Alice Springs and the ancient culture of the Aboriginal people, and her artistic creativity starts to blossom again.

As she explores the past, and with help from the amazing people she meets along the way, CeCe begins to believe that this ‘vast, heartbreaking, extraordinary, cruel’ continent could offer her something she never thought possible… a sense of belonging and a home.

The enigmatic CeCe turns out to be the most vulnerable and complex sister yet as Riley rolls out another glorious chapter of romance, mystery, tragedy, revelations and self-discovery set against the dramatic backdrops of Thailand’s exotic beaches and the desolate splendour of Australia’s Outback.

The similarities and contrasts of lives set one hundred years apart spring to vivid life in Riley’s capable hands as she weaves her storytelling magic on two women seeking solace, inspiration and fulfilment in a world so different to the one in which they were raised.

Kitty’s fate in the tough but lucrative pearling industry during the pioneering days of the early 20th century, and CeCe’s heartbreaking struggle to come to terms with her past, present and future, are portrayed with all the power, beauty and emotional intelligence that we have come to expect from Riley’s elegant and impeccably researched novels.

And with three more books to come in this brilliant series – and the spellbinding mystery of Pa Salt’s death and the seventh sister still to be solved – the adventure just goes on and on!

(Macmillan, hardback, £16.99)