The Coral Thief, by Rebecca Stott.
The year is 1815. Napoleon Bonaparte is bound for exile in the south Atlantic after his defeat at Waterloo. Daniel Connor is bound for Paris – a 21-year-old student fresh from England – carrying some rare fossils – his credentials needed to land a position with the noted Dr. Cuvier.
But before reaching Paris, Daniel’s belongs are hijacked. In his attempts to regain his goods, he falls in with an assortment of characters, including Lucienne Bernard, a legendary thief and philosopher. She is almost twice Daniel’s age, and goes from foe, to ally, to lover, to accomplice.
Lucienne is the heart of the novel. She is inquisitive and strong, yet a tragedy. Through Lucienne, Daniel will find himself – in many ways. He will find love as well as the courage to open up his mind to new ideas regarding religion and evolution.
The novel’s time frame is wonderful. Paris is crawling with everything – thieves, revolutionaries, scientists, rumors, gossip, soldiers and desperation. It’s all quite fun. Stott has created an atmosphere in her novel that few writers can match.
The main weakness of The Coral Thief comes from the Daniel Connor character. He’s just not that enticing. He’s rather stupid at times – making the same moronic kinds of decisions people make in bad horror films.
Despite the latter criticism, we have to admit, we very much liked The Coral Thief. Stott has managed to weave together a historic piece with a love story, a crime caper and a cultural history. We enjoy the position of knowing the outcome of history, but Stott has created a vivid world in chaos – and out of that, we get to see the seeds of evolution and revolution being sown.