Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Ruby in The Smoke - Philip Pullman

I started this book with great expectation having heard so much about Pullman and his His Dark Materials books. Besides it is set in Victorian London and I love those stories.

Have you ever heard the phrase The Seven Blessings?
That question causes a man to die of shock, and propels Sally Lockhart into a desperate adventure that will expose the deepest secrets of the corrupt and murderous opium trade.
Sally is sixteen when the story begins, orphaned and alone. She's had an unconventional education: her knowledge of English Literature, French, History, Art and Music is non-existent, but she has a thorough grounding in military tactics, can run a business, ride like a Cossack and shoot straight with a pistol. When her father is drowned in suspicious circumstances in the South China Sea, Sally soon finds herself in terrible danger too - and at the rotten heart of it all lies the deadly secret of the ruby in the smoke.

I found he has a great way to describe characters and setting, I could almost see Sally and the Garlands and Mrs Holland going about the streets of London. However I think there were some problems with the plot. It's supposedly a mystery however I never felt a suspense thrill, it mentions opium dens and shady characters but only in some few selected scenes did I feel that dark atmosphere. Sally never really interested me much, she is supposedly the sleuth that is going to discover everything but I felt that we get as much information from the villains if not more than from Sally. She was more worried in trying to remember the past and to know why her father was killed than actually looking for the lost ruby or helping save Adelaide when that was needed. I could never really warm up to her. On the other hand I really liked Jim and Rosa and would really like to know what happened to Adelaide.

The bad guys are really bad, namely the infamous Mrs Holland but it seems she manages to hurt everybody except Sally, who is supposedly the real target! Isn't that odd? Besides the story is slowly revealed, at times too slowly and then in the last chapters everything is solved with a nicely thought twist to explain everything and every character involved.

It seems to me that the idea behind the story was a good one (I keep thinking of Emilio Salgari's stories because of the Indian bad guys and the famous cursed jewel) but somehow the final result is not as good as it should be.

Grade: C+


  1. For me, The Ruby In The Smoke, was the least-engrossing of the quartet, but the others are much better. Don't let this one put you off reading the rest! Particularly if you're interested in Adelaide--the last book, The Tin Princess, is all about her!

  2. I was investigating after I finished this one and decided to pick up the others books. I'm glad to know you think they are better :-)

  3. Ana, I take it you haven't read the His Dark Materials books yet? I've read the first two of the trilogy - I wonder how these books compare.

  4. Well, everyone tells me they are much better and that I should read them.