Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Shadow in the North

The Shadow in the North

Philip Pullman
Fiction  Series
For ages 14 and up
Random House, 2008   ISBN: 978-0375845154

Sally Lockhart has done well for herself, and now has her own financial consultancy business.  One day a client pays a call and Sally learns that a piece of financial advice she gave turned out to be dreadfully flawed. Her client, an older retired school teacher, has now lost almost all her savings. The whole situation distresses Sally greatly, and she is determined to find out why the company she recommended failed. Who is the mysterious Axel Bellman and how is he involved in the whole business?

In the meantime Sally's friends, Jim Taylor and Frederick Garland, of the Garland Detective Agency, have a very peculiar case of their own on their hands. It would appear that someone is trying to eliminate a seemingly harmless magician. It is true that the man is more than just a little peculiar and not very likeable, but that doesn't account for the interest that someone has in him. The detectives are intrigued and begin to follow a trail that leads them in the most unexpected directions. The two men find themselves interviewing a medium, listening to descriptions of visions, creeping across roof tops, and all in all having a great number of adventures.

It soon becomes apparent that the cases of both Sally and of the Garland Detective Agency are in some way linked. In fact, the three friends find connections all over the place. They know that Axel Bellman is behind it all somehow and yet the man is so devilishly clever that his activities seem to be untraceable. The man, the personification of evil and corruption, is rich, powerful, and he thinks that he is untouchable. Axel Bellman has yet to learn that there are times when the good do prevail.

In this second book in the Sally Lockhart series Philip Pullman not only spins an extraordinary yarn, but he also exposes the seedy, criminal, and corrupted side of Victorian London. The reader sees how enormous the dichotomy between the rich and poor was at that time , and how easy it was for wealth to buy almost anything; murderers, politicians, businesses, and even the law itself could be bought if one had a big enough wallet.

Pullman also reveals how hard it must have been to be a single woman in late 1800's. A woman who used her brains was regarded with suspicion. In the higher levels of society, women were all too often 'sold' off in marriage to solidify family and business ties.

The true, loyal, and honest personalities of the heroes of this story provide an interesting foil for the dark side of the Victorian era, and they gives us hope that the righteous will indeed triumph, though they may have to pay a very high price to do so.