The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck (ARC Review)

The Pearl Hunter book cover


Goodreads: The Pearl Hunter
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: February 7, 2023

Official Summary

Set in a world inspired by pre-Shogun era Japan, this is a stunning debut fantasy in the vein of Grace Lin about how a young pearl diver goes to the ends of the earth to rescue her twin sister, who has been stolen by a ghost whale.

Kai and Kishi share the same futon, the same face, and the same talent for pearl diving. But Kishi is the obedient daughter, while Kai tries to push the rules, and sometimes they fight. Still, when Kishi is stolen and killed by the legendary Ghost Whale, nothing will stop Kai from searching for her, deep in the ocean, hoping for a way to bring her back to life.

But such a rescue is beyond the power of an ordinary mortal. Kai strikes a deal with the gods: she’ll steal a magic pearl in exchange for her sister’s soul. As she journeys across treacherous land scape, Kai must navigate encounters with scheming bandits, a power-hungry war lord, and a legion of conniving fox spirits. And when a new friendship becomes something almost as powerful as her love for her sister, Kai must make impossible choices and risk everything just to get home again.

Woven through with Japanese culture and legends, this many-layered story will grip readers of all ages.

Star Divider


With immersive world building and a protagonist whose love for her sister cannot be stopped, The Pearl Hunter is sure to be a hit with lovers of middle grade fantasy.

Miya T. Beck drops readers into protagonist Kai’s world, where her family is tightknit but magic seems faraway because her family’s status as pearl divers makes them low class. However, legends quickly become real after Kai’s twin dies, and she encounters gods and magical beings she thought were only fairy tales. And she’s ready to bargain with them all if it means getting her sister back.

Kai’s bravery and determination are some of the things I loved most about the book. Even places where the plot slows or falters, Kai’s personality helps the book keep shining. This is, of course, another instance of a book where the strong sisterly bond is almost always in flashbacks because the one sister isn’t actually present in the story, but I love a good sister bond nonetheless, and The Pearl Hunter delivers.

I do wish some of this charisma had been present in the romance. The love interest is an interesting person in his own right, and I like him well enough as a character, but there isn’t a lot of development showing how he and Kai actually come to care for each other. It seems that one moment they’re enemies, and the next they’re all blushing and willing to risk their lives for each other. Possibly the target audience will not take issue with this, however. I remember being in middle school and thinking some books that have maybe 3 pages total of romance were wildly romantic, whatever that says about me.

The bold choices the author makes at the end of the novel, however, definitely earned my respect. Things didn’t go quite the way I might have hoped or imagined, but they’re memorable and make a lot of sense in the context of the book. I also don’t think there will actually be a sequel, but there’s a lot of room left for me to imagine the adventures Kai might go on next and how she might try to change fate, and I like that a lot.

This is strong, solid fantasy. The pacing is slow at times, but the heart of the protagonist is inspiring and the folklore woven in will appeal to a lot of readers, so this is one to check out.

3 Stars

6 thoughts on “The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck (ARC Review)

  1. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    Ooooh I love Japanese culture so this sounds cool. Pre-Shogunate Japan sounds so vague though, is it like immediately pre-Tokugawa Japan (i.e. Sengoku period) or like pre-pre-pre-Tokugawa Japan in the Heian period or somewhere in between or…?

    Did the book give any clues about the specific era that inspired this story?


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      That’s a good question! It didn’t say specifically and I don’t know enough Japanese history to tell if there were broad hints for people who do know! A lot of the book was pretty focused on the protagonist’s quest, but the general world politics were that there are a lot of warlords fighting one another and sometimes on behalf of the emperor, but also some warlords have interest in overthrowing the emperor. So maybe the Sengoku period if I am going by Wikipedia’s description of it being a time of civil war?

      Liked by 1 person

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