The Coral Thief Synopsis
Paris, 1815. Napoleon has just surrendered at Waterloo and is on his way to the island of St. Helena to begin his exile. Meanwhile, Daniel Connor, a young medical student from Edinburgh, has just arrived in Paris to study anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes – only to realize that his letters of introduction and a gift of precious coral specimens, on which his tenure with the legendary Dr. Cuvier depends, have been stolen by the beautiful woman with whom he shared a stagecoach.
In the fervor and tumult of post revolutionary Paris, nothing is quite as it seems. In trying to recover his lost valuables, Daniel discovers that his beautiful adversary is in fact a philosopher-thief who lives in a shadowy world of outlaws and émigrés. Daniel’s fall into this underworld is also a flight, for as he falls in love with the mysterious coral thief and she draws him into an audacious plot that will leave him with a future very different from the one he has envisioned for himself, Daniel discovers a radical theory of evolution and mutability that irrevocably changes his conception of the world in which he lives.
The Coral Thief, as riveting and beautifully rendered as Ghostwalk, Rebecca Stott’s first novel, is a provocative and tantalizing mix of history, philosophy, and suspense. It conjures up vividly both the feats of Napoleon and the accomplishments of those working without fame or glory to change our ideas of who we are and the world in which we live. (Amazon)
One of the things I love about contemporary fiction is the extent to which many authors go to incorporate historical fact into their fictional tales. When you know an author spends as much time and energy researching the time period and locations in which their novels are set as Rebecca Stott does, reading for pleasure can double as a memorable history lesson. The Coral Thief combines two subjects I am fascinated by, theories of evolution and French history, and left me feeling the wiser for having read it.
The primary storyline is that of naive Daniel Connor’s escapades in post revolution Paris involving the elusive Coral Thief.
She had a way of suddenly plunging into intimacy — a touch, a step too close, a question, a look held for just a few moments too long — and then, as soon as she had invoked it, she would abandon it, returning to a formal distance. And in conversation she would plunge too, from one subject to another, from distance to seductive proximity, like a hare doubling back towards the hounds to disorientate them.
The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott is an intelligent and captivating evocation of post revolution Paris.
In parallel to protagonist Daniel’s tale and the changes occurring in Paris, Stott shares with the reader the fate of the captured Napoleon through a series of vignettes. This story framework artfully focusses the readers attention on the broad-ranging impacts the actions of individuals at that time had on European society and modern scientific thinking.
While the mystery plot line of this novel and its characters were not explored to their fullest potential, Stott’s kaleidoscopic prose and delicious attention to detail of time and place was sufficient reward for me.
If you are scientifically curious and enjoy your historical fiction closer to fact than fantasy, I highly recommend The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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Author Information: Rebecca Stott (born 1964) is a British academic, broadcaster, novelist and a professor at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Stott lives and works in Cambridge. She has three children. She has begun a third novel set in contemporary and Elizabethan London.
– Read an Rebecca Stott’s interview with YorkSpace where she discuss her approach to researching her novels