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The Ruby in the Smoke (1985)

by Philip Pullman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Sally Lockhart Quartet (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,730922,416 (3.74)160
In nineteenth-century London, sixteen-year-old Sally, a recent orphan, becomes involved in a deadly search for a mysterious ruby.
  1. 60
    A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (Anonymous user, Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Both stories are Victorian-era mysteries with smart and feisty female protagonists. Pullman's trilogy is definitely the darker of the two series, but Lee's complex and capable protagonist makes The Agency series well worth a read for cozy mystery lovers.… (more)
  2. 32
    A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (norabelle414)
    norabelle414: Excellent Victorian era historical fiction mysteries with strong female protagonists
  3. 10
    Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Aleana)
  4. 00
    The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer (Aleana)
  5. 00
    Les étranges soeurs Wilcox, Tome 1 : Les vampires de Londres by Fabrice Colin (Aleana)
  6. 00
    The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton (wordcauldron)
  7. 00
    The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap (sweetiegherkin)
  8. 00
    The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman (norabelle414)
  9. 00
    The Escape From Home by Avi (nocowardsoul)
  10. 00
    The Affinity Bridge by George Mann (rosylibrarian)
  11. 00
    The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb (HatsForMice)
    HatsForMice: Another Victorian London-set mystery, but with a fantasy element, more humour and a stronger sense of setting.

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» See also 160 mentions

English (87)  French (3)  Dutch (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
Far less scandalous that his other books, still it has an unusual heroine, Sally Lockheart. After the death of her father, Sally finds herself alone in the world, without friends, family or any of the traditional skills that women without the above need to make it in the world. What she does have is courage, a mind for business, and a determination to find out just who killed her father and why. Say what you will about Pullman's belifes, the man writes strong and smart female characters. ( )
  Colleen5096 | Oct 29, 2020 |
Very much enjoyed the setting of this book, and went on to read the other books because of it. Easy reading, and recommended. ( )
  CliveUK | Sep 20, 2020 |
First reread since adolescence. It’s no His Dark Materials, but it holds up. ( )
  AshLaz | Jan 24, 2020 |
The Sally Lockhart Trilogy is wonderfully entertaining. My inner 12 year old loves them. Please don't judge these books by the horrible "romance" type covers. They are smart, funny and adventuresome. ( )
  trinker | Jan 9, 2020 |
The Ruby in the Smoke called out to me not because of any merit of its own, but because it was written by Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials. Usually, when I enjoy an author’s work as much as I enjoyed The Golden Compass, it only makes sense to try some of his other series, yeah?

I have some mixed feelings about The Ruby in the Smoke.

On the one hand, I really liked the characters as a general rule. Each had his or her own quirks. They were a little bit stereotyped to what would have been common to their class, but they were individual enough that they stood out to me more than characters in similar situations in other novels, like Dodger or The Reluctant Assassin. I liked Sally, Rosa, and Fred in particular… but honestly Jim, Trembler, and Adelaide also had their merits. Each character was strongly written enough that I cared about what happened to them.

Within the character arc, I want to talk a little about the villain, Mrs. Holland. Mrs. Holland is a picture perfect Disney villain. She’s single-minded and old and crotchety and selfish and arrogant and dangerous. Thing of a personality mix somewhere between Maleficent, Cruella, and Ursula… and you’ve got Mrs. Holland. She’s perfectly done.

I really liked the romance too, which is something I don’t often say. I like it for the same reason I like it in Pullman’s other novels… there’s a slow, sweet build to it. Romance tends to take over stories and doesn’t seem to develop naturally… that drives me crazy, and it’s not true of The Ruby in the Smoke. Sally falls in love slowly, and in such a way you know it’s going to develop naturally over the course of the series. I really liked it, and I liked the potential couple too… so… I’m here for it.

While this is an historical fiction mystery, it’s also very much a YA novel. These were rare enough in 1985, and it goes to show that Philip Pullman was one of the early runners for the YA genre. Because of this, there’s been some criticism to the novel that it is too simple and straightforward. Honestly, those were some of the things I liked about it. There’s not a lot of glitz and glam to the writing, but it’s not so overly simplified that I would consider it middle grade. Not too hot, not too cold… just right.

The tale of the ruby itself immediately brought The Maltese Falcon to mind. The central piece in the story – or what the reader is led to believe is the central piece – is this ruby that people are willing to kill to have. It’s an immense fortune, and it seems to change people, bringing out the worst of their greed. I enjoyed he twists and turns of the novel – I predicted some elements its ended because some cliches are just good… but not the dramatic shift in the story. I thought it was well-done.

So here’s my concern, and I guess, it’s my only concern. The Ruby in the Smoke is based on and around the Opium Wars. Here in the States, we don’t talk a lot about these, as they aren’t a part of our country’s history, but in the mid-1800s, Britain went to war twice with China over opium. Opium plays a large part in The Ruby in the Smoke, and is used by multiple characters. There’s some stigma around it, but it is nonetheless appropriated for its hallucinogenic properties. So on one hand, we have drug use. And on the other hand, I’m not crazy about the depiction of Chinese characters? All are shown in relation to opium dens. They make up so little of the book, but it stood out to me immediately and… I don’t know. I guess it was just worth mentioning.

Generally, though? I really liked The Ruby in the Smoke, more than I was expecting to. It was refreshing to read a YA mystery that wasn’t a secret YA romance. This is an older book, so there are definitely cliches and tropes that were perhaps less common 34 years ago. Nonetheless, I’d recommend it is you enjoy the genre and in particular, if you liked The Golden Compass and are interested in some of Pullman’s other work. For myself, I’ll be venturing forth with The Shadow in the North. ( )
  Morteana | Nov 6, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Pullmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Benson, LindaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lesser, AntonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mak, KamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stutzman, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver.
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In nineteenth-century London, sixteen-year-old Sally, a recent orphan, becomes involved in a deadly search for a mysterious ruby.

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Soon after Sally Lockhart's father drowns at sea, she receives a strange anonymous letter. The dire warning it contains makes a man die of fear at her feet. Determined to discover the truth about her father's death, Sally is plunged into a terrifying mystery in the dark heart of Victorian London, at the centre of which lie a deadly blood-soaked jewel.
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