The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle

Posted December 18, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

The Book of Pearl

The Book of Pearl

by Timothée de Fombelle

Publisher: Candlewick Press on February 6, 2018
Genre: Magical Realism
Target Age Group: Adult, New Adult, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

In prose as magical and intricate as the tale it tells, Timothée de Fombelle delivers an unforgettable story of a first love that defines a lifetime.

Joshua Pearl comes from a world that we no longer believe in — a world of fairy tale. He knows that his great love waits for him there, but he is stuck in an unfamiliar time and place — an old-world marshmallow shop in Paris on the eve of World War II. As his memories begin to fade, Joshua seeks out strange objects: tiny fragments of tales that have already been told, trinkets that might possibly help him prove his own story before his love is lost forever. Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon translate the original French into a work both luminous and layered, enabling Timothée de Fombelle’s modern fairy tale to thrum with magic. Brimming with romance and history, mystery and adventure, this ode to the power of memory, storytelling, and love will ensnare any reader’s imagination and every reader’s heart.


I am a sucker for fairytales.

These days, fantasy is dark and fast-paced.  There are villains in the shadows with twisted plans that will keep you up at night.  There are brazen heroes and maidens who don’t need rescuing.

The Book of Pearl is something else entirely.

This novel reads like something by the Grimm brothers.  The Kingdoms are a lush fantasy world so beautiful in their simplicity and believable enough that they could be our own, in another age and time.  That is the charm of a fairytale – it’s fantasy, but it feels like, just maybe, it could be real.

You feel heartbreak and longing for the characters.

The difference between a classic fairytale and The Book of Pearl is that you can’t help but to fall for Ilian and Olia.

There are three characters in this book:

  • Ilian: a forsaken prince of the Kingdoms who was in hiding from his cruel older brother.  Ilian becomes Joshua Pearl.
  • Olia: a fae maiden who would give up anything for love and to right the wrongs she has caused.  She and Ilian are desperately in love.
  • The Narrator:  We never learn his name, but he has fallen into the story of these two star-crossed lovers and he shares it with us.

The Narrator takes us back and forth between Ilian’s childhood in the Kingdoms and his adulthood in WWII-era France.  The story follows his struggle to remember who he is, the girl he loves, and collect tokens of proof.  He does this all while making us desperately wish we could taste just a morsel of the famous marshmallows from Maison Pearl.

Ilian and Olia have a complicated curse set upon them which leads them both to intense, deep heartbreak.  Joshua Pearl (Ilian) describes maintaining his love as “keeping the grief alive”.  And you long just as much as he doees to kindle the love that never had a chance to begin.

Please give this book a chance.

This book touches so many of the senses and absolutely burrowed its way into my heart.  I was very apprehensive about requesting it in the first place, after hearing other bloggers describe it as “just okay” or “not for me”.  I’m really, really glad I did.  Let me tell you why this book is wonderful, and why I think others may have dismissed it.

  1. It’s a translation.  As a translation, I think we often dive in expecting there to be a bit of clunkiness. Let me put your mind to ease right now: There is not.  Sarah Ardizzone has done a beautiful job of translating the story and keeping the language soft and magical.
  2. There are multiple POVs.  Personally, multiple POVs are more likely to inspire me to pick up a book.  I love seeing different sides of a story.  I do also think that it can be a bit jarring if you’re not expecting it, especially if some POVs are third person, and another is first.  So I am warning you now that it’s like that, and the first person POV is the narrator… which makes sense.
  3. There’s not a lot of action.  This is a story of love and loss, and as such there’s minimal violence, very limited kissing, and I don’t believe there’s a single witty quip.  This is not like the popular fantasy hitting the shelves today.  This is not quite a treasure hunt, even.  But it is a softer, subtler kind of magic that will warm your heart.
  4. This isn’t a dark fairytale.  Is it just me or are most modernized fairytales and fairytale retellings really dark and dreary, which cruel twisted villains and horrible betrayal?  There are villains in this book, but since the story isn’t about defeating those villians, you won’t see much of them.  While this isn’t a happy book, it’s not dark and twisted either.

I guess for me, a lot of the things that turned other bloggers off this book really pulled me in.  I genuinely didn’t want to put this book down every night – there’s so much between the lines that I want to know about Ilian and his quest.  But the ending was the important part for these characters, and not the journey.

It was lovely.  Really, really lovely.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★


The Book of Pearl Stays on the Shelf

This is one I want to keep on my shelves.  You ever read a book and love it, but get the impression that there’s more to see that you missed because you were reading with a focus on plot, or characters, or something like that?  I feel like I read this book with too little specific focus and I’d like to reread it to get to know the Kingdoms better.


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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2 responses to “The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle

    • Amber

      It’s sad and sweet instead of menacing and dramatic. I really loved it a lot… I hope you like it too if you do read it! 🙂