2016 Reviews · Australian · Beauty and Lace review · historical fiction

Book Review: Jewel Sea by Kim Kelly


Book blurb:

The whole of the harbour was touched with gold – the tops of the quiet waves, warehouse roofs, the bulging folds of sails at rest, the tips of seagull wings – giving him one sweeping glimpse of beauty just as he was leaving, a vision of things as they ought always to be just as they were not…

March, 1912. A sultry Indian summer hangs over the west coast of Australia and aboard the luxury steamship SS Koombana, three tales entwine.

Irene Everley longs to leave her first-class fishbowl existence, secretly penning a gossip column as her life spirals out of control into soulless liaisons and alcohol, the long shadow of a tragedy clouding her view.

James Sinclair, an investor on his way to Broome is not the man he says he is but can he be trusted?

Abraham Davis, a wealthy dealer whose scandalous divorce is being dragged through the press, prepares to take the gamble of his life: to purchase an infamous, stolen pearl along the journey north.

Perfectly round, perfectly pink, this pearl comes with a curse and with a warning – destroying all who keep it from returning to the sea.

In the tradition of Steinbeck’s The Pearl, and the fabulous tales of Ion Idriess, comes a new twist on a fable of old. Based on the real-life tragedy of the SS Koombana, lost in a cyclone, never to be found, Jewel Sea is a gripping story of fatal desire, a tangled web of theft and greed, and of kindred spirits searching for courage, for a chance of love and redemption – and for a chance to truly live.

4.5 stars

My review:

As a West Australian born and bred, it was a little disheartening to discover I had absolutely no prior knowledge of a fascinating slice of history that took place off the coast of WA in 1912. Established Australian author Kim Kelly majestically brings to life the ill fated tale of the luxury steamship SS Koombana, which was lost in a cyclone in her book, Jewel Sea. Carefully combining historical fact with fiction, Kelly manages to weave an intriguing tale of love, betrayal, greed and disaster. I wish to thank Kim Kelly for drawing my attention to this important piece of Western Australia’s history.

Jewel Sea is a book that is told in multiple voices that is comprised of the various passengers aboard the SS Koombana. These points of view are diverse but they work in harmony, joining together to provide an overall picture of the doomed steamship. Kelly uses these voices to explore powerful themes of class and relationships. Characters are a true strength in Jewel Sea. One such character, Irene, stood out from the pack, her tale was simply unforgettable. Equally mesmerising and wonderfully creative was the device of giving a pearl, the main crux of the story, a distinct voice. I admire Kelly for inserting this into her narrative, as it gave Jewel Sea another layer of the story to unlock. For those who enjoy something outside the box, Jewel Sea does take on a little of the magical.
The device of using a mystical pearl in a narrative thread provided me with the opportunity to suspend some realism, which I enjoyed immensely.

Readers will find Jewel Sea very well researched and the writing polished. The narrative is breathtaking and the characters are well drawn. I read this book in just two sittings, which is testament to my unwillingness to put the book down.  The author note contained at the close of the novel is compelling and should not be overlooked, it definitely added a little extra to my reading experience of this novel. Jewel Sea marks my third experience reading the talented works of Kim Kelly. She is an author I know I can trust to write colourful stories, highlighting Australia’s rich heritage. I would highly recommend Jewel Sea to all readers.

*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.


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