The Pearl Whisperer is the first book of Karin Erlandsson’s fantasy quartet ‘The Song of the Eye Stone.’ At the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Miranda. She is a pearl fisher, indeed she confidently believes, and with good reason, that she is the very best pearl fisher. It is the beginning of Summer and she is travelling south. It is the pearl fishing season and Miranda is seeking a very special pearl, the Eye Stone. A legendary pearl that will grant the person who finds it all their heart desires. The Queen of the realm has promised a great reward for the one who finds it, many have answered the call, but so far no one has been successful.
Miranda’s diving skill is especially noteworthy as she has only one arm. When she was eleven and was diving with her father, she was distracted by the beauty and variety of colours of the pearls, when a Rose shark attacked and ripped off one of her arms. Despite this impediment Miranda is a determined and skilful diver, frequently bringing back a richer haul of pearls than every other pearl fisher. These pearls are sold by the divers to merchants who transport them to the capital where they are a favourite adornment of courtiers and where they are worked into the Queen’s Avenue, a long and beautiful roadway made from pearls in place of cobblestones.
Her Father taught her to dive, but her Father like many of the adults in this world, has gone in search of the Eye Stone. For the Eye Stone does not simply promise the fulfilment of one’s heart’s desire, it curses whoever goes in search of it. First Miranda’s mother, then her father. We learn that this is a common tragedy that has befallen many families. It is on one market day when Miranda is selling pearls that she come across a tall, imperious woman with dazzling white hair who demands she find the Eye Stone for her, the woman’s name is Iberis. Unnerved as she is by Iberis, Miranda has no intention of doing anyone’s bidding, she will find the Eye Stone herself and be celebrated in the songs when she does what no one else has done.
But as skilful a diver as Miranda is, she is not the pearl whisperer of the book’s title. The ship she sails out on for her diving expeditions is owned by her friend Marko. One day he appears at the lodgings where Miranda is staying with a little girl, he informs Miranda that this is the daughter of his wife’s sister. She wants to be a pearl fisher too, she also lost her right arm to a Rose-shark, she also claims she is the best pearl fisher. Marko makes it clear that this little girl called Syrsa has no one else, and that she must at least try to teach her to dive when they next go out for pearls.
Miranda reluctantly accepts Syrsa into her lodgings, cooking porridge for her and plaiting her hair, but it is clear she is independently minded and in little mood for the endless chattering of the little girl whose voice sounds like chiming bells. She has learned from Marko that raising her hand when Syrsa is chattering away will silence her, and that this is one of the few ways to silence her endless talking.
But when they go diving together, Miranda is aghast at how poorly Syrsa dives, churning up sand from the seabed, this isn’t going to work. But Syrsa manages to find large pearls, where Miranda saw none. She even heads into a cave, even though everyone knows caves are empty of pearls, and returns dragging a satchel loaded to the brim with red pearls of all shades and sizes, how could she have known they would be there? Back on board ship, the usually taciturn Marko laughs at Miranda’s surprise, it is then Syrsa reveals that she hears the pearls. Red pearls sing, the blue pearls growl, the yellow pearls giggle, white pearls sound like a crackling fire. With Miranda’s diving ability and Syrsa’s ability to hear pearls, it seems obvious that together they will find the Eye Stone.
Returning to shore with a ship loaded to the brim with red pearls, Miranda, Marko, and Syrsa are all in high spirits. Miranda is realising what Marko had known all along, she must take Syrsa with her. As they start to unload the red pearls an incredulous voice on shore asks how they managed to find so many and such beautiful pearls. It is Iberis. As Iberis stares with her intimidating intensity at both Miranda and Syrsa, it dawns on Miranda that Iberis might be aware of Syrsa’s special gift. After selling the pearls to Iberis she decides to set sail at first light in their search for the Eye Stone.
As Miranda and Syrsa set sail over the world called simply the Queendom, we learn something of the toll that the obsession with the Eye Stone has taken on numerous families. When sailing to the forested lands in the North that is Miranda’s homeland, they come upon an orphanage/school for children abandoned by questing parents, something that Syrsa understands to well, as both her mother and father fell prey to the hunger to find the stone. The orphanage has an extensive library with numerous maps, and Miranda reads the legends of the Eye Stone and Pearl Whisperers. She also starts to think the maps indicate the Eye Stone might be in the Northern forests of her homeland, the last place anyone expected.
It is while she is poring over these maps that Iberis abducts Syrsa. And it is this event that makes it clear to Miranda how much she has changed, that Syrsa’s companionship, the ever-chattering little sister she never asked for, has begun to mean as much to her as her quest for the Eye Stone. Miranda herself comes very close to dying whilst at sea, when the wind drops and she is at the mercy of the intense heat for days, with little food and drink. She is rescued and taken to the largest town in the forests of the North, near where she grew up. She is tended back to health by a kind woman skilled in the use of herbals remedies called Lydia. She also learns that Lydia is the first known pearl whisperer described in the books on pearl-diving folklore. Lydia also knows first-hand what a cruel person Oberis is, and the danger that Syrsa is in.
When Miranda is fully restored to health she goes in search of a river in the North, convinced this is where the Eye Stone will be, convinced this is where Oberis will have taken Syrsa. By this stage in her quest Miranda is in little doubt that it is Syrsa she wants to find rather than the Eye Stone, that she misses the chiming bells that would follow her everywhere. Despite Miranda’s stoic manner and emotional reticence, she clearly misses her father, something brought home to her as she travels the forests of the North where they used to live and cut trees together.
The first story in the “Song of the Eye Stone” is a beautiful and memorable tale of unexpected self-discovery and of friendship, with a gracefully drawn fantasy world that one feels confident will become a classic of children’s literature. It is also a good example of the type of book Young Dedalus wishes to publish, an imaginative fantasy that will be a childhood favourite and inspire a lifelong love of reading.
The Pearl Whisperer will be available from Dedalus at the end of March 2022.