Ruby Scarlett (magicalsibylle) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Ruby Scarlett

#13 - Philip Pullman - Sally Lockhart #1: The Ruby in the Smoke

Author: Philip Pullman
Title: The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Mysteries, #1)
Number: 13/50
Format: Audio book (read by Anton Lesser)
Grade: 4/5

My personal history with this series of books is a bit unusual, I suppose. I saw the TV adaptations of the first two books, then read the third and fourth books and I've recently decided to read the first two. The Ruby in the Smoke is the first book following Sally Lockhart, a spunky 16-year-old in Victorian London (& Oxford, which was lovely as I lived there for a year and it's always nice to hear the names of familiar streets and roads.) It's a historical mystery with real backbone, despite a few flaws.

I really enjoyed the depth of Pullman's writing - the dialog and the descriptions in particular are packed with details and exquisite. Sally herself is well-developed from the start and extremely likeable. The cast of secondary characters is unevenly written: while Sally's allies are well fleshed out, her enemies are often cartoonish, with very little depth.

The general plot is good enough, though unnecessarily complex and unrealistic at times, which, combined with the caricatures we are often presented with amongst the 'baddies' makes for a very bizarre story. The relationships between the different characters are very nice and warm, I felt very close to them all and my favourite parts often had to do with moments of friendships and Sally learning about her past rather than her escaping one of the clownish characters. Near the middle of the novel, she tries to put her finger on why she feels like she belongs and I found her conclusion particularly moving ('they didn't care that one was a servant and that I was a woman, we were equals here. That was what was different.') and it gives an inkling of broader themes of class and gender explored further in The Tiger in the Well, the third book in the series.

A word about the audio book, since it's the format I chose: Anton Lesser's narrative is flawless. Overall, a good book, not excellent but very worth reading and a nice introduction to the series and to one of my favourite heroines in literature.
Tags: historical fiction, mystery

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