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Philip Pullman – The Ruby in the Smoke

October 27, 2007

107. The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (1985)
Sally Lockhart Trilogy, Book 1

Read by Anton Lesser
Length: 6h 26m (200 pages)

Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction; Mystery

Started: 20 October 2007
Finished: 27 October 2007

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart’s father, partner in a shipping firm, has recently died in the Far East, leaving her an orphan. His last letter to her makes her suspect that he did not simply die in a shipwreck, but as a result of something more sinister. Left on her own in 1870s London, Sally attempts to unravel the mystery of her father’s death, only to uncover new mysteries at every turn. There’s a cursed ruby (whereabouts unknown), a phrase (“the seven blessings”) with power enough to kill a man just upon hearing it, an opium-fueled nightmare, and a host of villains who are out to stop Sally – by any means necessary.

Review: I picked this up because I loved the His Dark Materials trilogy and was hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately, although this book definitely has elements of Pullman’s style, it lacks the depth and power of the other series. I appreciate that, like HDM, this is a young adult book that doesn’t shy away from the realities of life – the bad guys are not just mean, but legitimately dangerous to life and limb. The set-up of this novel is good – Sally’s a strong and interesting heroine, the mysteries are sufficiently mysterious, and the allies she enlists are also interesting and capable. The problem with this book was the structure. It felt like at least the first 2/3 were set-up, followed by a big action/chase/fight scene, followed by a sudden realization and a rush of denouement, with one character explaining everything straight out. There weren’t enough clues for readers to put even part of the answers together on their own, and so it felt like a bit of a cheat and a waste of a perfectly good set-up to have it all explained to us in flat-out terms at the end. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Not a bad book, and grittily realistic for a YA novel, but the payoff didn’t live up to the potential.

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