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The Coral Thief: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 15, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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“Stott again skillfully combines an intriguing love story, complex scientific concepts, and a beautifully realized historical setting…Riveting on all fronts, from its suspenseful plot to its elegant presentation of evolutionary theory.”–Booklist, starred review
“Stott once again juxtaposes science with a tale of love, mystery and intrigue, setting this volatile mix against a backdrop of critical events in post-Revolutionary France… Skillfully embeds early 19th-century culture, history, and attitudes into a story that flows like the Seine and floods the senses.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Top Customer Reviews
"It depends," I said, "On your expectations. Whether they are low or high."
"Oh, my expectation are, I believe, unusually high."
"Well, then, many things will not be as good as they seem."
And that was my experience exactly. I think that had I come to The Coral Thief with no expectations whatsoever, I would have enjoyed it more.
The novel opens with 21-year-old protagonist Daniel Connor on his way to Paris from his home in Edinburgh. The year is 1815. Napoléon has just been defeated at Waterloo. And Daniel Connor is striking out on his own for the first time to continue his medical and scientific studies at the renowned Jardin des Plantes with the famed Dr. Cuvier. He comes bearing gifts of rare coral specimens, a translated manuscript, and letters of recommendation from his former professor.
As he travels by mail coach, Daniel meets a most extraordinary woman. It takes him a while, in the dark, to realize that she is quite beautiful, though she's about twice his age. She speaks knowledgeably, if controversially, about science. She is like no one he has ever known. When he awakes in the morning, the woman is gone. So is the bag containing his specimens and the rest of the precious items in his charge. Oddly, she's gone out of her way to leave his money.Read more ›
This narrative is interspersed with an imagined tale of Napoleon's journey to exile which Stott doesn't even bother to connect to the story in any real way beyond a few casual comments. Its almost as if you are watching a an Oceans Elevens/Departed type movie and your spouse keeps changing the channel to an documentary on Napoleon's exile and Post Revolutionary Paris. You don't get bored with one program or the other, but the mixture feels somewhat bumpy at best. The plot seems heavily contrived and the romantic scenes lack heat. Daniel Connor also makes one inexpiable decision after another which doesn't help.
The writing however is great, and Stott consistently uses several phrases that light up. The Police Chief (who is based on fact in a stranger then fiction turn), and some of the scenes that describe Revolutionary violence are the story's fabulous and moving highlights.
Into this heady maelstrom comes the naïve, ambitious narrator, English medical student Daniel Connor, fresh from the University of Edinburgh, to study anatomy with the great Cuvier at the Jardin des Plantes.
But on the coach to Paris young Connor meets a beautiful older woman, Lucienne Bernard, an intellectual who fills his head with the exciting and heretical ideas of another Jardin des Plantes scientist, Lamarck, precursor to Darwin. Beguiled by the woman, Connor falls asleep and wakes to find the precious fossils and papers he was to deliver to Cuvier have been stolen.
Without them his budding career is at an end. Connor reports the theft, but the menacing head of police, M. Jagot, proves more ruthless than the beautiful thief. Jagot has a personal vendetta against Bernard and her circle of outlaw intelligentsia and he's perfectly willing to bring down Connor along with them.
An affair naturally ensues between the mysterious Bernard and the young man and Connor soon becomes entangled in her fate. He also excels at his new duties assisting Cuvier's catalogue of nature, while carousing most nights with his fellow student or Bernard, drinking and talking of the new philosophy of evolution.
Stott's writing is visual and eloquent. She brings the intellectual excitement of the era alive as well as the post-Napoleonic letdown and unrest and the lingering paranoia of The Terror.
The book's problems stem from the narration.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting story that mixes history, culture, mystique, science, love and adventure. Unusual style but skillfully weaved by the author, similar to Crepuscule. Read morePublished 4 hours ago by Teri E
I learned so much about pre-Darwinian thinking and controversy and in a setting of dark romantic Parisian history. Beautiful writing...Published 25 days ago by fredzia
This is a sublime novel incorporating history, fiction, romance, mystery and science. Chapters describing the current plot are alternated with a chronology of Napoleon's final... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Alabama Anglophile
Great setting in Napoleonic France with surprise ending !!!Published 1 month ago by Charles Mays III
Outstanding historical fiction. Highly recommended. Great story with vivid characters and lots of historical detail about Paris and France and Napolian and emerging medical science... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Alan C. Brown
This is a remarkable and exhilarating book. This takes place in Paris in the era after the fall of Napoleon. People drink absinthe and crawl the caverns under the city. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Mary A. Turzillo
Marvelous story. Stayed with me, haunting me long after I read it.Published 9 months ago by lyndairene
If you liked The Alienist by Caleb Carr, try this terrific story. A bit of suspense, a bit of history, interesting characters and a wonderful depiction of the streets and... Read morePublished 24 months ago by Amazon Customer
Rebecca Stott is a historian of science as well as a novelist. She wrote a well-respected study of Charles Darwin and recently had an article on Darwin published in the Smithsonian... Read morePublished on March 23, 2014 by Alice Berry