The Coral Thief

The Coral Thief

by Rebecca Stott


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Paris, 1815. Daniel Connor, a young medical student from Edinburgh, has arrived to study anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes—only to realize that his letters of introduction and precious coral specimens, on which his tenure with the legendary Dr. Cuvier depends, have been stolen. His thief turns out to be a beautiful woman who lives in a shadowy realm of outlaws, philosophers, and émigrés. As Daniel falls in love with her, he discovers a radical theory of evolution that irrevocably changes his conception of the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385531481
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/04/2010
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 840,317
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Rebecca Stott is a professor of English literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. She is the author of the novels The Coral Thief and Ghostwalk and a biography, Darwin and the Barnacle, and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio. She lives in Cambridge, England.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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 woman’s 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 was surprisingly low for a woman, and it stirred me. The black of the sky was already shading to a deep inky blue over toward the horizon. Mist hung over the fields and hedgerows and gathered a little in the trees on either side of the road.

“Is it safe in France for a woman to travel alone?” I asked as the coach lurched back into movement. The Edinburgh newspapers regularly reported attacks on carriages traveling at night across open country.

She laughed and turned toward me, her face illuminated by the light of a half-moon. Over to my left somewhere a rooster crowed; we must have been passing a farm or a village. “But I am not traveling alone,” she said, dropping her voice to a whisper and leaning toward me. “I have Delphine. She is no ordinary child, you see. She is asleep now, of course, so it may be a little difficult for you to believe, but this child, she can fight armies and slay dragons. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have seen her lift an elephant and its rider with a single hand. Non, I am entirely safe with Delphine. Otherwise, of course, I would never travel alone. It is far too dangerous. What about you, monsieur? Are you not afraid?”


“No, of course you are not afraid.” She smiled. “You are a man.”

“I have never left England before,” I stammered. “I have never traveled so far or had to make myself understood in another language. Three times I decided I must take the next mail coach back to Calais . . . I’ve never felt so much of a coward.”

She laughed, her voice mesmerizing in the darkness. “There it is. Paris. See the lights ahead . . . on the horizon? We will be there by dawn. Imagine . . . ” She stopped suddenly, gazing out toward the flattened shapes of the distant hills. “Sometimes it’s easier to see all that water in the darkness.”

“I can’t see any water,” I said, confused.

She pointed from right to left. “Everything you see from there to there, the entire Paris basin, was under water thousands of years ago. Paris was just a hollow in the seafloor then. There were cliffs of chalk over there, see, where the land began. Picture it—giant sea lizards swimming around us, oysters and corals beneath us, creatures with bodies so strange we couldn’t possibly imagine them crawling across the seabed. Later, when the water retreated, the creatures pulled themselves onto the rocks to make new bodies with scales and fur and feathers. Mammoths wandered down from the hills to drink from the Seine, under the same moon as this one, calling to one another.”

“That’s a strange thing to think about,” I said.

“Oui.” She laughed. “I suppose it is. But I think about it often, this earth before man. I look at the fossils in the rocks, the remains of that time so long ago, and I think about how late we came. Even the sea slugs appeared before we did. It took thousands of years for these bodies of ours to take shape, for our clever eyes and our curious brains to come to be. And now that we are big and strong, we think everything belongs to us, that we know and own everything.”

“Come to be?” I said, surprised and a little alarmed. “So you think species have changed? You are a student of Professor Lamarck, the transformist?”

“I was once,” she said. “Lamarck is right about most things. Species are not fixed. Everything is changing, all the time. The animals, the people, the hills—even the little things, skin, hair, everything is constantly renewing itself, taking new shapes. Just think of what we have come from—simple sea creatures with no eyes or hearts or minds— then think of what we might yet become. Doesn’t that excite you?” She ran her fingers across the child’s face. She—Delphine, the dragonslayer—stirred, her eyes flickering open for a moment and then closing again.

“Paris is riddled with infidels,” Professor Jameson had warned me back in Edinburgh. “They are poets, these French transformists, not men of science. They dream up notions about the origins of the earth and the transmutation of species. Castles in the air. Most of them are atheists too—heretics. Steer clear.”

Jameson had not mentioned that there were women who had studied with Lamarck. I wondered what he would make of this infidel sitting beside me now. I would have to record this conversation in my notebook, I thought; Jameson would want a report. He would want to know the kind of words she used, what she had read, whom she talked to. So did I.

“It will get bigger, you know,” she said, her eyes shining in the dark with a touch of malevolence.

“What will?”

“The city. It doesn’t look so big now, at night, but it will swallow you up. Are you not afraid?”

“Yes.” I smiled. “Yes. Of course I’m afraid.”

Paris aroused complicated feelings in me then. What did I know of cities—the sound of thousands of people moving together, the tangled dealings of commerce and trade? I had always been a country boy. I knew the insides of the cave networks and mine workings of Derbyshire; I knew the angles and curves of the hills, the names of trees, ferns, lichens, and fishes; I could tell you how the light fell across the lakes, but I knew almost nothing of cities.

Edinburgh—quiet, solid, rainy Edinburgh, hewn out of the rock and built across a ravine—where I had lived and worked for four years, had overwhelmed me as a seventeen-year-old boy arriving by carriage one frosty morning. As I slipped through the crowd of Princes Street, I could scarcely feel the beginnings and ends of myself in the roar and flow of it. So I had anchored myself, establishing daily routes between the lecture theaters, the anatomy school, the libraries, museums, and taverns. Despite the best efforts of my fellow students, one of whom urged me with mock seriousness to fall in love for the sake of my health, I had lived largely in and among books.

I had seen London fleetingly, passing through from time to time on my way from Edinburgh to my family home in Derbyshire. One day in May I walked from the inn where I was staying to the optical-instrument maker’s shop in the Strand and bought a bronze-cased microscope in a velvet-lined box with money I had saved for three years. On that brief walk, London, for all its smoke and smell and noise, enraptured me. My curiosity, that shapeless thing that drove at me relentlessly, that propelled the search for origins and explanations and connections, my desire to see further and further into the insides of things that had compelled me from the day I had touched my first microscope, or turned the first page of Aristotle’s History of Animals, or opened the encyclopedia at the page marked “Anatomy,” had seemed all the more heightened in London. There were answers to be found in cities; there were libraries, instrument shops and museums and professors who knew how to pose extraordinary questions.

Now that I had graduated, I wanted more than anything to be part of what was happening in Paris—the conversations and discoveries in the debating rooms, the libraries, and the museums. The French professors, given authority, freedom, and money by Napoleon, were making new inroads into knowledge. The museums in Paris were remarkable, the lectures groundbreaking. But it was also the city my father and his friends feared and loathed, the Paris of the Revolution —a city of people so hungry they had marched on Versailles, stormed the Bastille, imprisoned and then killed a royal family. I thought about the newspaper reports my father had kept that described the guillotine swallowing up lives, thousands of them; blood in the streets; mobs; children with sticks and garden tools hunting down the children of aristocrats and beating them to death; a king made to wear a red cap; bloodied heads on spikes; the grocer burned alive on a pyre made of furniture thrown from the windows of the palaces of émigrés.

Then there was the Paris of Napoleon Bonaparte. I had seen drawings of the buildings and squares and streets the Emperor had built: the vast classical perspective of the Arc du Carrousel and the Arc de Triomphe; the new bridges and water fountains; the classical façades, colonnades, marble columns—all so cool and quiet—the imperial aspirations of the Emperor laid serenely on top of fire, blood, and death. Paris was to be the new Rome, Napoleon had declared.

Now that Napoleon had been captured, Wellington had restored the French king to the throne—Louis XVIII, they called this one; the brother of the guillotined king. But everyone was still half expecting Napoleon to rise again, like a body that just wouldn’t drown. Anything could happen, and I wanted to be there to see it. Whatever it was going to be. There was going to be a spectacle of some kind.

“Daniel into the lion’s den . . . ” she said.

“How do you know my name?” The coach lurched so that my body crushed up against her shoulder in the darkness. “Pardon, madame. Have we met before? ”

“A Portuguese priest taught me some tricks in a bar on the Amalfi coast,” she said, turning her head toward me with a slow smile. In the lightening of the morning, I could see her face for the first time against the black folds of her hood.

She was darkly, heavily beautiful. A woman of middle years with black eyes and olive skin and thick black eyebrows that almost touched in the middle, making the shape of an archer’s bow, a falcon in flight. Even in the half-light, the directness of her gaze startled me. She held me there, her eyes searching out mine, her lips forming the faintest of smiles, but I could not look back, not directly, though I wanted to. Always immersed in my studies, and growing up as a boy among boys, I had had little practice conversing with women. I felt myself blush and began to stammer. “What tricks?” I asked. “What did he teach you?”

“My friend, the abbé Faria,” she said, “is a magnetist. He is half Indian, half Portuguese. He taught me many things. I put you to sleep for a few minutes, and then you told me everything—first your name, your family, your dreams . . . and then your secrets. Now I know all your secrets. Every one.” She smiled.

“You didn’t put me to sleep,” I said. “That’s ridiculous.” I looked at my pocket watch. The hands were still moving clockwise at the same rate. It was half past five. I was certain I had lost no time.

“How can you be sure, monsieur?” She was no longer looking at my eyes; now her gaze had settled on my lips. Her eyes on my lips, her thigh against my thigh, her shoulder against mine. I could feel the heat of her body through my clothes. In the early-morning light, with the child sleeping in the crook of her arm, she looked like a painting. Almost sacred. Yet the intimacy of her talk and manner disturbed me.

“You must be about twenty,” she said, examining me more closely. “You remind me of someone I once knew. You have the look of a Caravaggio boy—your dark curls, your skin, your coloring, your eyes.”


“The Italian painter.”

“Yes, I know who Caravaggio is.”

“I think it’s something about your lips. Your beauty begins there, in your lips. Some of Caravaggio’s paintings are in the Louvre. You should go and see them.”

“I am twenty-three,” I said, exaggerating a little, while trying to steady my breathing. Could she see my discomfort, my body betraying its secrets?

She smiled. The wind had picked up. It tugged at her cloak and blew through her hair. She pulled the cloak further around the child’s head. The child, disturbed, woke for a moment and sat up, black eyes wide, her black hair disheveled and wild, and said in French, as if still dreaming: “M. Napoleon, il est mort.”

“No, no, little one, ” the woman replied in French, “it’s only a dream, just a dream. M. Napoleon is sleeping safely in his own bed. Really. His soldiers are guarding him. Now, go back to sleep. We will be in Paris soon.”

The child, comforted, dropped her shoulders, closed her eyes, pulled the cloak around her, and was soon sleeping again.

The woman turned back to me, her voice low and lingering. “Your name is Daniel Connor. You are studying anatomy at the medical school in Edinburgh. You have written up your dissertation. Probably, I think, on something to do with generation or embryology—”

“The circulation of the blood in the fetus . . . How did you . . . ”

“And now you come to Paris to study at the Jardin des Plantes, M. Daniel Connor. You think about philosophical questions. What else? Am I correct so far?”

“How can you possibly know that?”

My voice, when I spoke, was shaky. I was tired, I reminded myself. Just that. And this woman was a specter. Probably just a figment of my imagination, conjured in the night.

She laughed again and gestured toward my traveling bag, which sat between us on the seat, open.

“You are labeled, my friend . . . here.” She ran her fingers over the letters engraved on the inside of the bag. “You see: daniel connor, medical school, edinburgh. I guessed the rest. You are easy to read.”

“That is not fair,” I said, relieved. “You have taken advantage of me.”

“You see,” she said, “I am a great investigator. We say enquêteur. There are many Edinburgh medical students like you in Paris now. They come to listen to the French professors of the Jardin des Plantes: Professors Lamarck, Cuvier, and Geoffroy. I like to watch them. They amuse me.”

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Coral Thief 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Jessica_Pinker More than 1 year ago
Loved it! The Coral Theif kept my attention, and thirsty for more. With a touch of action, a hint of history, a splash of romance, and a lot of mystery, I found myself entrenched in this book instantly. Every night, I escaped to France after Napolean's revolution. I recommend, definately a must-read :) You won't be disappointed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At about the one-third mark in the book, I'm still waiting for the story to emerge from the density of the historical setting. I will finish it eventually, but it won't keep me up at night until I do! The Coral Thief might make a better book club selection than it does for solitary reading. Working at appreciating the language, the sentence structure, and the setting would be more fun in prepping for a discussion.
3tzmom More than 1 year ago
I also saw this as a recommendation in a magazine. The book focuses more on the history and science of the time than the plot. I did learn a lot about Paris and Napoleon, but it overshadowed the plot. The characters spent a lot of time philosophizing about evolution or transformation. I found it redundant at times. All that being said, this is a book I believe some readers will love. Others will find it a little slow, but an acceptable read.
craso More than 1 year ago
Daniel Connor is a young medical student from Edinburgh traveling to Paris to work for Dr. Cuvier, a famous naturalist. It is 1815 and Napoleon, after losing at Waterloo, is on his way to St. Helena. Connor brings with him letters of introduction and coral specimens. While on the coach entering the city he meets a woman carrying a small child. The woman is fascinating and beautiful. He falls a sleep and awakes to find the specimens are gone. When he reaches the city he searches for the woman and becomes entangled in the coral thief's world of crime and philosophy. The book is well written. The character of Lucienne the philosopher thief and the setting of post Napoleonic era Paris are well developed. Most of the writing is devoted to thoughts and descriptions, which make it a slow paced read. The action doesn't begin until near the end of the novel when the main characters become involved with the group of thieves. The historical and scientific elements are well researched. I enjoyed reading about the scientific community in Paris and would have liked the author to have focused more on the natural science and theories of evolution being studied and discussed at that time. The most interesting part of the story is when Dr. Cuvier is giving a tour of the museum at the Jardin des Plantes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book caught my attention after reading a review on it in a magazine. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but I will be going out to buy all other works shortly. The story takes place in Paris, and the story really makes it feel as though you are really there. The characters are so diverse in their backgrounds and well traveled, lending a larger picture as to what the world was like back then. Their feelings about The Revolution carry throughout the entire story. You can feel the frustrations as the main character tries to sort out his feelings about the coral thief and what to do about her. The smaller plot lines weave seamlessly in and out of the story, making it more complete. The book itself is not long, but it does not feel rushed. The ending does wrap itself up nicely for the main character, but the book occupied my thoughts for many days after I finished reading it. I highly recommend this to everyone!
abby.of.the.year on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Coral Thief drew me in far faster than I expected. The main character is quite human, even to the extent that he is sometimes off-putting in his behavior and thoughts. Although the novel only really held one moment of suspense for me, I still found it interesting, and I still found myself reading it at every opportunity. The opening lines of the book seemed not to fit with the rest of the novel; they seemed out of place and misleading. Where most opening lines of novels give you a sense of what you are about to begin, these opening lines held no apparent stylistic connection to the rest of the book. In addition, the novel seemed to want to be a suspenseful, thriller-like read, but it seemed less suspenseful than I had expected and hoped for. Despite these things, The Coral Thief was an interesting, fast-paced read with thoughtful, if less-than-in-depth, exploration of a number of scientific and philisophocal ideas.
clif_hiker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this story. It combines a number of my interests... science, European history, mystery, etc. The juxtaposition of one of the most exciting times in science with the tumultuous years following the fall of Napoleon is marvelous. However, in the end it's just a 'caper' story. That M. Conner was being set up is fairly obvious from the beginning and that the love story was bound to end badly was also pretty obvious. I appreciate the love and passion that Ms. Stott displays for the pursuit of knowledge and her ability to turn it into a love story. Recommened for readers who have an onterest in science and European history.
polarbear123 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fantastic read. I haven't given a five star for a while but this one certainly deserves it. The setting is wonderful and the use of the dual narrative with Napoleon's incarceration along with the journey of Daniel Connor is intelligently carried out. Paris in the early 19th century comes alive and the vestiges of the French revolution are beautifully evoked. The story was also gripping right until the end. One of the previous reviewers found the naivety of the main character irritating as he fell in love with Lucienne so easily. I can totally see why she was so alluring personally and I thought all of the characters were well realised - all apart from maybe Sophie Daucleuve (think I may have got that wrong). I really wanted to know more about this stepdaughter of Cuvier. Was she flirting with Daniel all of the time or was that just her nature? Great stuff.
carolynsan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting story but the "mysterious woman" irritated me; enjoyed the Paris scene.
JIK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. My apologies for the delay on posting this review.I found it to be a mildly enjoyable read, but certainly not one of my favorites. This was my first Rebecca Stott novel. I was excited about the setting -- post-Napoleonic Paris -- but a bit let down by the story. Fans of historical fiction would be much better served by reading the works of Matthew Pearl (The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens) or Louis Bayard (The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye). These books are written better, and are more exciting, than The Coral Thief. That said, this book was still not bad.
mariah2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received a copy of Rebecca Stott¿s book, The Coral Thief, from the Library Thing¿s early reviewers program, and I truly enjoyed spending time in this book. I say IN this book, as opposed to reading this book, because this is a story that drew me in. The young Daniel Connor thought he had the rest of his life mapped out. He would travel to Paris in July of 1815 and work for the famous Professor Cuvier as an aide-naturaliste. This in turn would significantly improve his reputation in his chosen profession as a ¿man of science¿. Life rarely follows the plans we make for it though, and the traveler on the road of life is often met with ¿ambushes and skirmishes¿. Daniel¿s ambush went by the name of Lucienne Bernard. Daniel found out first hand that Lucienne is a thief, a common thief, however, she was not. The lives of Daniel and Lucienne become entwined and Daniel found himself on a road he could never have dreamed of before he met his thief.
_ScarpeGrosse_ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ohhhh The Coral Thief. How I wanted to love it and hug it and call it George. Instead, I ended up slogging through it four to five pages at a time, because that was about all I could read until I fell asleep with my face pressed into the spine. The Coral Thief tells the tale of a young naturalist who meets a mysterious woman on the coach into Paris during the time of Cuvier's reign at the Jardin des Plantes. Our hero, anxious to begin work under Cuvier, is thwarted in his quest by this mysterious woman, who steals both the prized samples of coral (and some other assorted specimens) and a manuscript meant for Cuvier. Eventually she returns most of the above, and thus begins a rather predictable (bound to fail) love story.This was one of those books where I kept waiting for something to happen. It tells a very *quiet* story, relying on the beauty of its language and descriptions without delivering much in the way of excitement. It was a very pretty book, but one that I wished delivered more.Two stars because while I didn't love it, I didn't throw it into the fire.
mckait on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Young Daniel Connor falls into intrigue, love and dishonesty before he ever reaches Paris. While on a coach to take him into the city, He is joined by a woman and small child. The woman steals important papers from him, as well as specimans meant as gifts for the renownded famed Dr. Cuvie studies at Jardin des Plantes. Daniel meant to study with Dr Cuvie. The loss of these items would mean his career path was in serious jeopardy. The woman herself was unusual and somewhat extraordinary. Despite the fact that she may have taken from him a chance to follow his dreams, he was intrigued and eventually obsessed with her, with Lucienne. During the telling of Daniels story, and his unfortunate decisions, we are given glimpses of Napoleon Bonaparte, following his defeat at Waterloo. I did not manage to find any real connection to the main story.Perhaps there was something I missed. Once again, I found myself feeling very ambivalent about the story, and rather unconnected to the characters. I felt that Daniel was a bit of a fool, and Lucienne simply eluded my understanding altogether. Her actions and stories of her past did not quite mesh for me. So...three stars. I am not sorry I read it. It was short, took little time and was mildly interesting. Perhaps fans of Ghostwalk will be more inclined to like this story than I was.
tigermel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Coral Thief is what i call "an observer to a historically significant time" novel. It is about a Scottish student, Daniel, who comes to Paris to study under Cuvier (a naturalist who thought species couldn't change) right after Napoleon is defeated. The specimens he is bringing from his teacher to Cuvier get stolen by a beautiful woman and he feels that unless he gets those items back he's ruined. The beautiful woman is Lucienne Bernard, a professional thief with a traumatic past who gets Daniel caught up in the political, philosophical, religious and scientific debates of the time.Things i liked: the illustrations! There were drawings of sculptures, maps, insects and fossils. These pictures really brought to life some of the details of the novel. I also liked Fin, our narrator's roommate. A drunken, but good-natured, medical student who mainly spends his time amputating limbs in the medical wards and forgetting about the horrors of that with his social circle. What i didn't like: the bits about Napoleon. really don't know why those little interludes were in the book. The ending is also a bit of a letdown. The book builds up to this spectacular heist but then just ends very quickly. Overall, this is a 3 1/2 out of 5 for me. not bad and i do like Stott's style, so i may pick up her other book, Ghostwalk, at some later date.
weesin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book takes place in Paris in 1815. It is a historical fiction that takes place during a time when a lot is going on scientifically and the main character 21-year-old Daniel Conner, an Edinburgh medical student comes to study at the Jardin des Plantes under Cuvier. He comes with a letter of introduction and gifts for the great man from his mentor in Edinburgh. But on the coach to Paris, a mysterious woman steals his luggage. The story is about his adventure regarding a jewel heist and talks a lot about Napolean and other historical figures. Enjoyed the book and discussions - characters were not too convincing-an interesting time in history.but I found the book a little confusing .
melissas09 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Coral Thief, by Rebecca Stott, is an intriguing novel that takes place in 1815 Paris; a tumultuous time in Europe, following Napoleon's exile. A time in which not only artists roamed the streets of the city, but great thinkers - scientists, doctors, philosophers - who came to Paris to engage in the great debates over the great questions - where did we come from? When did time actually begin? The story follows a young medical student who travels to Paris from Edinburgh to study anatomy. On his journey he meets a mysterious woman, and upon his arrival in Paris, he finds she has taken from him several items of great importance, letters, journals, and specimens that would secure him a place working with some of the greatest minds of the time in Paris. In his search for the woman, he finds that she is a master of thievery and disguise. He eventually finds himself entangled in a world of ideas beyond anything he had considered before. As his days pass in the city, he finds himself opening up to new scientific theories, meeting exiles in hiding, witnessing the transfer of art brought to Paris by Napoleon back to its rightful owners, and caught up in an underworld of intrigue, crime, and new ideas. A fast-paced novel that incorporates details that will appeal to the senses as well as the intellect, The Coral Thief is a "provactive and tantalizing mix of history, philosophy, and suspense" (book jacket).
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stott's novel takes place in Paris in 1815, a turbulent time in French history, with Napoleon en route to exile on Saint Helena and Paris chock-a-block with opportunistic foreigners, many vying for the the Napoleonic booty. The story centers on a 21-year-old Edinburgh medical student named Daniel Conner who has come to Paris to study comparative anatomy under Cuvier at the Jardin des Plantes. Daniel arrives with a gift -- the coral of title - in his possession. This treasure, however, is almost immediately stolen by a mysterious woman with whom he shares a coach. And so the caper begins...for a caper it is: the book is a somewhat odd mixture of heist and historical romance. I wanted to like this novel more than I did. The books begins with a good deal of promise and a nice brisk pace. Then too, I lived in Paris for many years and thus the setting interests me. Certainly such an intriguing period in history should only have added to the narrative possibilities. However, I found the 1st person point of view too limiting for any real depth, and as a result my involvement with the characters never fully developed. I found Daniel somewhat too self-absorbed, too naive, and without any dramatic irony which might have overcome the restrictions of that POV. Lucienne, the mysterious woman, spends much of the novel hiding from the police by dressing up as a man, and I'm afraid I just didn't buy it. It seemed a tired device and one for which I was unable to suspend disbelief. As a whole, the characters felt somewhat stereotypical to me, which is a shame, since I think the choice of time and place had so much potential.Unfortunately, Stott has added a number of vignettes of Napoleon's voyage to Saint Helena which, in my opinion, go nowhere. I kept wondering why they were there. Although interesting, they didn't connect to the main story and seemed like intrusions, albeit nicely written ones. Stott has said she used them to anchor Daniel's story to history but, for me, they didn't work.Stott's descriptions of Paris, while obviously well researched, sound a bit expository at times, as when the two main characters, Daniel and Lucienne, race through the tunnels under Paris and Lucienne pauses to interject some information about a counterfeiter's printing press she once observed down there. It does rather destroy any suspense, and makes it hard to believe anyone really felt in danger. There's no denying that Stott has a daft hand when it comes to historical detail, and a good understanding of issues which transcend the novel's era. In fact, the most interesting passages, for me, where those that involved discussions of the new science and the controversies surrounding its perceived clash with theology. I wish she'd concentrated more on that rather than framing the plot around the heist -- a adventure which seemed so convoluted I lost interest. I kept wondering, as I read this novel, why I didn't like it more, why it was failing to engage me. So many wonderful ingredients, and yet in the end they simply didn't come together strongly enough to satisfy this reader. Having said that (and saying it with regret), I would like to read more of Stott's work, since even under the disappointment of this particular plot, I get a sense of her talent and passion.
JenSay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Coral Thief moved much too slowly for me. Daniel Conner, the main character, is difficult to care about. He is young and naive-which usually means I will feel some sort of sympathy. Not this time though. He just could not persuade me to care about him. The plot is slow-moving, and I never felt like I actually got anywhere. I had similar feelings about Ghostwalk, and I have concluded that Stott's work just isn't for me.
angrystarlyt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The sensory experience of reading this book was overwhelming. Each sentence was a treat to the imagination, lushly and lovingly describing (from what I can tell, accurately) post-Waterloo Paris. I can't get over the sheer effect of the *words* Stott uses--the pacing of the story, the careful attention to every detail, the vivid and exotic said, at times the story was a bit thin to me. Now, I study collections as one of my academic pursuits, and my particular poison in my lit degree is the dissemination of scientific theory through Victorian fiction, so the plot of this book was very, very harmonious with my interests, so perhaps I am biased when I say I'd like to have read more about the corals, or Cuvier, or even the Jardin, than I wanted to hear about Lucienne or Daniel or Delphine. Sometimes, the gorgeous texture of the setting seems like it's just a stage prop for a love story, but sometimes a true sense of the revolutionary spirit I think Stott was trying to capture shines through; I only wish there had been more of that. I devoured this book in a day, because I couldn't get enough of Stott's catalogue of beauties; I would love to read through this more slowly, although I'm not sure how well the story would capture my interest the second time through. However, enjoying the atmosphere of Stott's scientific, philosophic Pars would be more than enough reward.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If Rebecca Stott¿s goal was to create a vivid feel of Paris after the Napoleonic wars, this novel is a complete success. As for the plot and characters she builds this vibrant setting around, they definitely take a backseat in her vivid re-creation. Her story starts as an intriguing mystery novel, young scientist Daniel Connor heads to Paris to study with the greats in a nexus of brilliant and important thought of the day, Paris. On the train into town, he is near hypnotized by a beautiful stranger, and ends up having some priceless fossils stolen from him. When he tries to recover his items, he meets the Police Chief, a corrupt and former master thief who has his own agenda concerning this robbery. The novel quickly morphs into a caper story with who is using whom elements. 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. 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.
nycbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Coral Thief is set after the battle of Waterloo which marks the end of the reign of Napoleon. Now I've read books set during the French Revolution (Mistress of the Revolution is awesome) but nothing set during this time period.I'm a little torn over this book. I love the historical setting. And I wanted to love the characters...but somehow I just couldn't get close to them. There's a bit of romance, a bit of action, and a bit of Les Miserables going on.So here's the story:Daniel Conner, a student from Scotland, is on his way to Paris to study anatomy under the prestigious Jardin des Plantes. During the late night coach ride into the city, Daniel notices among the other passengers an attractive woman with a small child. He naturally strikes up a conversation with this lady on the long trek to Paris. The next day, he awakens on the coach to find the letters of introduction to the school missing as well as some coral specimens which were meant to be a gift for the school. Embarrassed and annoyed at his loss, he wants to know who this lady was and why she would steal these things. Daniel's quest for takes him into fascinating territories of post-Napoleon Paris.I loved aspects of this novel. I was fascinated by the historical era this book takes place in. Rebecca Stott really made post-Napoleon Paris come alive. The characters were also so interesting. There was naive Daniel who really evolved and grew up throughout the story. The heroine of the novel - the coral thief - well, I just loved her. What a strong leading lady. And then the whole Les Miserables aspect (there's a Cosette type child and Javert type police inspector).But the characters are the only problem with this story as well. They are a bit slippery. A bit mysterious. I couldn't quite get a grasp on them. Like the Coral Thief...I wanted to love her. She could really be one of my favorite literary characters...but the author kind of keeps her distance on the whole story. And I couldn't quite get what she was doing with Daniel.A Girl Walks into a Bookstore reviewed this as well and mentioned that the writer seemed "emotionally detached" from the story. I totally understand what she meant. I'd love to see this story expanded and/or adapted into a movie or something. I would still recommend it for the historical time period it covers. And the Coral Thief...we'll, she's still a really cool character.
IWantToBelieve on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Overall, The Coral Thief is an interesting work of historical fiction. Stott does an excellent job of putting the reader in Paris in 1815 and I rather enjoyed the character, "Lucienne Bernard," who is our main character's (Daniel Connor)foe/love interest. However, what started as a quick page-turner got somewhat bogged down toward the end. It is a short book but I feel that it could have been wrapped up in less pages. Also, the placing of the illustrations kind of irked me. All in all though it was a good read with vivid settings and characters.
hredwards on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really interesting book!!I started it thinking it might be interesting and it ended up being a real page turner!!Exciting and interesting, full of interesting philosophical questions, but also a thrilling mystery and chase to the finish.Looking forward to reading more by Ms. Stott.
containedobsession on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I finished The Coral Thief last night. It's a smart, engaging book on a time period I don't really think about, (right after the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution) but of course, so critical. For me the best parts of the book was Lucienne's character (a fascinating woman) and the community of natural philosophers who were arguing about the pre-Darwin evolution. I studied the history of science in college, so I really loved the setting of the story in the time before Darwin, with Lamarck's theories. I also really enjoyed Lucienne's back story, which was beautifully written. I guess I also wanted her life (without all the stealing and post-Revolution trauma), where she traveled to Egypt looking for the beginning of time.
libsue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Was so looking forward to reading The Coral Thief. I found it well written, but I just couldn't connect with the story or the characters. Sad to say 125 pages in I gave up.Perhaps I'll try it again another time.