Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Ruby in the Smoke-Philip Pullman

The Ruby in the Smoke
Philip Pullman
Kopf, Sep 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780375845161

In 1872 London, sixteen years old Sally Lockhart lives with her scornful Aunt Caroline Rees following the death of her father at sea. However when she receives a note that appears to have been sent by her dad, she visits her late father’s former business partner Selby to learn who Mr. Marchands is and what is the Seven Blessings included in the enigmatic message. Office assistant Jim Taylor escorts her to secretary Mr. Higgs. Her mentioning of the Seven Blessings leads to Higgs suddenly dying from a heart attack.

When she receives a note from Mr. Marchands warning her to beware of the old witch, she goes to visit him. He tells her he cannot help her, but provides her with a journal from when her mother was murdered sixteen years ago in India. She avoids the witch who happens to be visiting Marchands and meets young artist Frederick Garland. She returns by train to London, but falling asleep the journal is stolen except for the last few pages that fell out. Her adventures are just beginning but she has allies in Jim, Frederick and his actress sister Rosa even as the witch Mrs. Holland arranges to have her murdered as she did Mr. Marchands.

This is a reprint of an entertaining Victorian young adult thriller starring a wonderful teenage heroine in peril and a strong support cast either willing to help her or hurt her. The story line is fast-paced from the onset as Sally just wants to know what her father’s cryptic note means and never slows down as each innocent step she takes leads to trouble. In some ways in just a few scenes the vile villainess Mrs. Holland steals the show as her plotting is diabolically brilliant; just ask the journal thief. With a strong stance towards equality and bringing Madison Avenue marketing to Victorian London, fans will enjoy THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, the first of the Sally Lockhart mysteries.

Harriet Klausner

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