The Coral Thief, as riveting and beautifully rendered as Ghostwalk, Rebecca Stotts 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.
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.
In the dark hours of a hot July night in 1815, sitting on the outside of a mail coach a few miles from Paris, I woke to the sound of a womans voice, speaking in French, deep and roughly textured, like limestone. We had stopped outside a village inn whose sign creaked in the night wind. Attention, she said to the driver. Be careful.
I opened my eyes as a tall figure, her head obscured by the hood of her cloak, climbed into the seat beside me. Groaning with the effort, the driver passed up to her a large bundle wrapped in a red velvet blanket. It was a sleeping child; I could just make out a dimpled hand, the sleep-hot flush of a cheek, and a curl of dark hair. The woman spoke softly to the child, soothing it, rearranging the folds of its blanket.
There are several empty seats inside, madame, I said in French, concentrating hard on my pronunciation.
She answered me in perfect English: But who would want to sit inside on a night like this?
Her voice ...
An epic tale of change, love, and science set against the backdrop of post-Revolutionary France... Overlaid on top of the excellently executed historical fiction is a page-turning mystery that will keep readers riveted... The narrative ranges from delightful scenes at the Jardin des Plantes, the epicenter of naturalist research, to the twisted, dark alleys of the poorer sections of Paris, and each moment transports the reader to a bygone era.
(Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).
Full Review (800 words).
The Jardin des Plantes and the Changing Landscapes of Botanical Gardens
The Jardin des Plantes in Paris was the epicenter of naturalist research in the early 1800s and is currently one of the world's foremost botanical gardens. Built in 1626, it was planted in 1635 as a medicinal herb garden for the King of France. It was opened to the public in 1640, greatly expanded under superintendent G.L.L Buffon, and eventually developed into a center of scientific study. Georges Cuvier, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the Jussieu brothers, and other prominent scientists of the time were all associated with the Jardin des Plantes and conducted research there. During the early 19th century, the facility supported expeditions to ...
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