Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke

Philip Pullman
Fiction  Series
For ages 14 and up
Random House, 2008   ISBN: 037584516X

Sally Lockhart's life has taken a very dramatic turn, and it is a turn very much for the worse. First Sally discovers that her beloved father died when his ship sank in Asian seas. Then she receives a very puzzling letter, which prompts her to try to find out about her father and his business. The first person she mentions the letter to promptly drops dead of fright. Clearly there is something very sinister going on,  and somehow her father was involved in the business. Sally begins to wonder more and more about her father's death and if he might have been a murder victim.

Sally's efforts lead her in a number of directions. The only good thing to come of her investigations is that Sally makes some new, and as it turns out, very good and loyal friends. It is these friends who make it possible for her to start putting together the pieces of the present mystery, and thus discover what lies in her own past. For Sally learns that her own story is not what she has been led to believe, that she is not, in fact, who she thinks  she is at all. Somewhere the answer to her identity lies in a tangle of nightmares, unanswered questions, and the story of a missing Indian ruby.

Unpredictable, gripping, and full of surprises, this first book in the Sally Lockhart series presents a picture of Victorian England that is both disturbing and fascinating. On the one hand one has those all too famous rules of behaviour and morals for which the Victorians were famous. On the other hand there is the poverty, high levels of crime, opium dens, and moral decrepitude all of which made London, for many, a very dreadful place to live. Children were abused and exploited, and many lived under appalling conditions. Worst of all, the authorities did their best to pretend that the social problems were not there. Indeed, as Sally discovers, the government may be doing more than just turning a blind eye; they may be involved in some highly questionable business affairs.

With this book, Philip Pullman sets his readers on the road for a very exciting series of books, all of which expose elements of Victorian England which were scandalous and which Sally Lockhart and her friends, do their best, in their own small way, to fight.