I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck, twin sisters Kai and Kishi are pearl divers with their parents, living on the coast. One day, a ghost whale called the bakekujira appears and swallows Kishi. Kai and her parents are devastated, and Kai vows to get her sister back. She goes to the Dragon King, who leads her to the goddess Benzaiten. With Benzaiten, Kai strikes a deal: if she can obtain the pearl of a powerful fox goddess, then Benzaiten will bring Kishi back from the underworld. So Kai sets off, facing dangers she had never imagined as a pearl diver, but also discovering that she has strength and skills she didn’t dream of.
This was such a strange but entertaining adventure! I really liked the way Japanese myths and folklore were worked into this fictional world of magic. It’s a culture deeply inspired by Japan in the pre-shogunate era, and it’s great to see.
I also liked the characters well enough. Kai is a sweet girl, full of determination. I do think sometimes she was a little too conveniently skilled, especially in terms of how quickly she masters archery, but it didn’t bother me too much. I also really liked Ren, the bandit kid she teams up with. He was cool, and the chemistry they had was nice.
I think the main way this book disappointed me slightly was the pacing—everything feels as if it moves very quickly, without allowing us to explore the different places and people that Kai sees. For example, I think we should have spent much more time at the fox den, to really get a sense of what it’s like for the beings that live there, but instead we kind of sped through it to get to the final confrontation. Still, since this is a debut middle grade, it’s still a solid story; I just would have liked it to be longer.
I also think the ending was strange. If there’s going to be a sequel, that would make sense, but as an ending to a standalone, I didn’t love it. But that’s just a personal preference, as ambiguous endings aren’t my favorite.
In the end, though, I think The Pearl Hunter was a good novel! The characters are pretty good, the folklore-inspired land is cool, and the action is pretty compelling. There are many moments of strong emotion, as well as a nice character arc for the protagonist. It isn’t the strongest book I’ve ever read, but Beck definitely is a promising writer!
The Pearl Hunter will be published on February 7th, 2023!