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Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter



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About The Book

For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a “sensitive and compassionate” (The New York Times Book Review) feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father.

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.

Then 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 glamourous 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?

An “extraordinarily vivid” (Kelly Rimmer, New York Times bestselling author of The Warsaw Orphan) feminist adventure story based on Lizzie Pook’s deep research into the pearling industry and the era of British colonial rule in Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is ultimately about the lengths one woman will travel to save her family.


Bannin Bay, Western Australia, 1886

Eliza has never seen a land that looks so very much like blood. From the deck of the steamer it glistens, stretching wide in a lazy, sun-blurred smear.

She raises a hand against the glare, taking to tiptoes to squint over the polished guard rail. Before her, red dirt jitters in the heat and the sea is a boisterous, blistering green. There is something unsettling about the weariness of the breeze, hot and filled with the mineral stench of seagrass.

“We made it, my loves, we did it. Marvelous.” Her father’s oiled mustache lifts upward as he grins. He turns from his family to look out across the strange landscape—mirrored bays and shadowy crags the color of crushed insects.

This journey will be what saves them. Father had told them so over mutton and gravy back home. He regaled them with tales of pearl shells first, their shining nacres of champagne, silver, and cream. He was to work with his brother to launch a fleet of luggers, hauling shell to sell in bulk to the Americans and the French. The world was already lapping up the spoils of Bannin Bay, turning mother-of-pearl into buttons and the prettiest pistol handles you ever did see.

They’d watched, with jaws slack, as Father had pulled out his old atlas, folded down the page, and smoothed his palm across the place called New Holland. “Look.” He showed them, trailing a finger down its western coast. “When we’re there, we will be able to forget about all that has happened.”

The beach in front of Eliza flares white and harsh. Dunes, sharp with swaying saltbush, ripple far into the distance. Below the rail, gulls skirl around a jetty that unfurls like a crocodile’s crooked tail into a long gut of mangroves.

Her father gives the order and leads them steadily off the ship—her uncle Willem, her aunt Martha, followed closely by her mother and brother. Thomas is a head taller than her now, conspicuous in this heat in his short trousers and smart pressed jacket. Glancing back, she can see the hunched shoulders of stevedores. In grubby vests and moleskins to the knee, they lug what remains of the Brightwells’ belongings out of the ship.

Grasping at her mother’s skirts, Eliza steps down onto the jetty. As she does, and with the speed of a knife over lard, her feet slide from beneath her and she thuds, backside first, onto the planks. The odor is obscene, but she places a flat palm on the greasy wood. There are fish scales smeared about and stringy meat going crisp in the sun. “Come, Eliza. Brush yourself off.” Her mother extends a broad, comforting hand.

Eliza rubs her elbows, smooths her skirts, and lets her mother tug her to her feet. The sun has scattered coins of light across the sea; they make her eyes swim with stars. Looking up, she finds the sky obscured by the crescent of her mother’s silk hat, the brim so absurdly wide she has seen men cowering from it back home. How odd she seems against this strange new place, Eliza thinks, like a dragonfly, once resplendent, marooned in a bucket of old slop water.

They continue down the jetty, her father and brother striding ahead. Sweat pools in the crooks of her elbows and at the creases behind her knees. Beside them, men watch unflinchingly as they pass, turning caulking mallets, hammers, and dirtied blades in rough hands. Her mother pays them no heed—an easy task for someone accustomed to admiration—and looks instead across the shoreline and out to the shot silk of the sea.

“You see, my girl, it’s beautiful.” She smiles and kneels to the height of her daughter. Eliza hears the rush of liquid before it happens. Sees the movement at the corner of her eye but turns away a heartbeat too late. With a sigh it splashes across them—thick with chunks and foul smelling. It slides with grim slowness down Eliza’s face. They turn together toward a man who has frozen in position, sun-grizzled as a raisin and with only a few gray teeth. He holds a barrelful of fish guts under an arm, and a cracked palm raised in surrender.

“My apologies,” he gasps, although a smile plays about his lips. “You ladies got right in the way. I beg your pardon.” He stands aside to let them pass. “Please.”

Her mother gives a huff as she jerks her daughter sharply onward. Smearing the guts from her cheeks, Eliza turns to see the man remove his hat. She watches as he hawks a knot of phlegm from his throat, depositing it at his feet with a gluey string of spittle. Her mother quickens to an appalled trot, still pulling at Eliza’s arm.

The words barely reach her before they are snatched by the breeze. Four words she’ll always remember.

“Welcome to Bannin Bay,” they say.

About The Author

Magdalena Smolarska

Lizzie Pook is a London-based travel writer and journalist whose work has taken her to some of the farthest-flung parts of the planet, from the trans-Himalayas—in search of elusive snow leopards—to the vast, uninhabited east coast of Greenland. She has written for The GuardianThe TelegraphThe Times (London), Lonely Planet, and Condé Nast Traveler. Lizzie is the author of Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge and Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter. Visit her at or connect with her on Twitter @LizziePook.

Why We Love It

“I’m not someone who frequently falls for historical fiction, but when I do fall, I fall hard. The works of historical fiction I love most share some common DNA: they prioritize character and voice as much as worldbuilding, they explore timeless themes of human love, longing, and loss, and they feature badass female protagonists. Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter checks all of these boxes and more. It features a gutsy young woman who bucks tradition and adventures into the dangerous mangroves and seas of Western Australia to find the truth behind her father’s disappearance. Lizzie Pook brings the natural world to vivid life on the page, but she gives equal weight to the politics of British colonialism and the way they turned Western Australia into a land of profit (for themselves) and peril.”

—Carina G., Senior Editor, on Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 13, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982180508

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Raves and Reviews

“A sensitive and compassionate book, admirable in its engaging synthesis of multiple strands of history. It is alive to the complexity of how things must have been, and its consideration of race, gender and sexuality invigorates the era with a freshness that feels organic…. At its heart, this is a story about family — whether it can survive in an inhospitable environment — and whether it is possible to be a good person in a corrupted world.”—New York Times Book Review

New York Times Book Review

"Lush.... Pook casts an intoxicating spell."—Publishers Weekly

“With the spirited Eliza at its heart, Pook’s evocative debut novel spins a tale of intrigue and deception with a deft combination of gripping pacing and emotional restraint. Travel writer and journalist Pook’s heightened observational skills are well employed in this lavish tableau showcasing Australia’s vast and exotic natural treasures and fraught history.”—Booklist, starred review

“Beautifully evocative prose describing landscape and people intertwine in this bittersweet story of love, family, and courage. The small cast of characters, each wonderfully fleshed out, and Eliza’s quest are what propel the story. Alongside the characters, it is place that is the book’s focus: the ocean and the land complement and enhance Eliza’s investigation. VERDICT Readers will delight in the descriptive language that the author employs, so much so that they themselves will hear the sea and feel the desiccation of the heat and loneliness of the land.”—Library Journal

"[MOONLIGHT AND THE PEARLER’S DAUGHTER] atmospheric, evocative descriptions of the Western Australian landscape are an absolute masterclass in place—as well as being a proper, page-turning adventure.”--Ellery Lloyd, author of The Club

“Lizzie Pook’s meticulous research delivers an extraordinarily vivid tale in Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter. Readers will fall in love with the characters in this book, especially the courageous, stubborn Eliza, and will find themselves transported to Bannin Bay in the late 1800s. I could not put this book down. Lizzie Pook is an author to watch!”--Kelly Rimmer, New York Times bestselling author of The Warsaw Orphan

"Lizzie Pook has written a luscious, mysterious, adventure novel set in the halcyon days of Australia's lucrative pearling industry in the late 1800's. When Eliza Brightwell's father goes missing on a diving boat, his courageous, headstrong daughter refuses to accept his fate. As Eliza seeks the truth, her father's odyssey becomes her own. She confronts danger and unearths secrets that will change the course of her life. Pook spins an expert tale of corruption, fate and family in this dazzling debut."--Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Good Left Undone

"This is a stunning debut. From the very first line, this novel drew me fully into its gritty yet captivating world. MOONLIGHT AND THE PEARLER’S DAUGHTER paints a memorable picture of ambition, sacrifice and corruption while exploring personal loss as driving force. I will never look at a string of pearls in quite the same way."--Charmaine Wilkerson, author of Black Cake

"Gritty, lyrical, breathtaking. I couldn’t put it down, drawn in by its vividly-drawn characters and wealth of historical detail."--Fiona Valpy, author of The Dressmaker's Gift

“A lush mystery with a vivid and unique setting, wonderous prose, layered characters and a satisfying end. Pook has crafted a historical adventure I won't forget!”--T.A. Willberg, author of Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder

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