I first heard of this book over at Angieville. Phillip Pullman also wrote the more well known series His Dark Materials. I have never read the His DarI first heard of this book over at Angieville. Phillip Pullman also wrote the more well known series His Dark Materials. I have never read the His Dark Materials series, but after hearing about this book, I wanted to give him a try. This is an older book, obviously, because I'm reviewing it for Retro Friday, but it's a new book for me.
The plot centers around Sally Lockhart, who has been orphaned after her father is killed after his ship sank. She is living in London and accidentally kills a man after uttering the words "the Seven Blessings." This pulls her into a mystery involving India, a ruby, opium and various characters, both kind and despicable.
The book is very Dickensian, and I will admit to not having read any Dickens, but the characters in this book remind me of some of the more famous characters from Dickens. The setting is also Victorian London, which I loved. Pullman also uses written dialect to convey the characters. Sometimes this can go horribly wrong, but I thought he pulled it off well without insulting the characters, some of which come from the lower classes of London
As for the characters, I liked how Sally was both unusual and typical for her time. Sometimes when I read historical fiction, the characters are so modern as to be unbelievable. I thought Sally was a nice balance. She obviously lives in the Victorian era where women did not have the same rights, but she is able to function independently, but Pullman also makes note the struggles that unmarried women with no family had to face. I thought it was a nice portrayal of being a woman in the Victorian era, especially showing how women were beginning to gain equal rights. I did like Sally, but sometimes she seemed too trusting. She automatically trusts a messenger boy, Jim, because he has an honest face. Luckily, Jim is honest and becomes devoted to Sally, but I think Sally's judgement is lacking, especially considering that people are out to kill her. I thought this was her major flaw and I'm amazed it didn't get her killed. Speaking of Jim, I liked him and his love of penny dreadfuls and his devotion to Sally. And of course, the book sets up Frederick and Sally, and they seems to meet on an equal level. That is one thing I liked about the the characters that befriend Sally, they view themselves as equal and readily accept Sally and each other.
As for the villains, Mrs. Holland was a very old fashioned, terrifying villain. Unfortunately, her motivations aren't shown until the ending, but she is brutal in the best. And despite being an old lady, she is terrifying.
I was confused by some plot points while reading the books, especially why the man at the end wants to kill Sally. Maybe I read too quickly, but it felt a little jarring to me and didn't make sense. I would have liked more back story with that man, because I felt that part was explained too quickly.
I am currently reading the second book in this series, The Shadow in the North. I like this one so far, too, but it's jumped 6 years into the future and I am still trying to get my grounding. I think I will finish out the series. The best way I can describe these books so far is cozy. ...more
This book had popped up as a recommended book on Goodreads a while ago, but I ignored it, and maybe I should have, because learning about Laika has beThis book had popped up as a recommended book on Goodreads a while ago, but I ignored it, and maybe I should have, because learning about Laika has been very heartbreaking for me.
I first learned about Laika this week and scoured the internet to find all the information I could about her. There's not much, unfortunately, but I thought I would read this book, since I heard it was well researched, even if not everything in the book was true. She was the first dog and first living creature put into space/orbit. Unfortunately, because of political pressure, the engineers in the program didn't have enough time to formulate a plan to bring her home and she died in space after a few hours. This book is about Laika, her fictionalized keeper, Yelena, Korolev, the chief designer of the Soviet Space Program and Gazenko, one of the scientists involved with Laika.
Laika gets a back story, and while this is obviously speculation, we can never imagine Laika's life before she was in the space program, these scenes were really tearjerkers for me. I thought I would not like the back story, but I think it added something to the overall story. Because there is not a lot of information on Laika, there has to be some speculation. I liked the scenes where she flew in people's dreams. Like she was already ready to meet her destiny. Not to say that I enjoyed her death, but I thought the scenes of her flying, in dreams and in space were beautifully rendered and captured her spirit.
The character of Yelena and her relationship with the dogs was a big tearjerker for me, too. I like how Abadzis didn't anthropomorphize Laika, but had Yelena speaking for her. All animal lovers do this to an extent and I read an interview with Abadzis where he made this point as well, that we as humans project their emotions and experiences on animals. The trust between her and Laika was heartbreaking, as well. I think the afterword put it best, "the personal stories, both canine and human, that bring Laika alive as a meditation on the meaning of destiny and the fragile beauty of trust."
That, to me, is what the book was about. Korolev and Laika both had a destiny and Laika trusted her keepers and they sent her on a one-way ticket to space. Not to criticize the scientists, as at least one of them, Gazenko, regretted the experiment. They really were doing something they believed was for the good of science, but I think the book shows how they grappled with it, that maybe it wasn't an easy decision for them.
As stated before, I liked the depiction of her flying into space, while it was sad, I think it also depicted that she finally had a sort freedom as she flew into oblivion. And when she and Sputnik II returned to earth, she left a mark. I thought ending with the blackness was beautiful and it contrasted nicely with the opening all in white.
Overall, this book was amazing. I think Abadzis captured all the conflicting emotions about Laika and the Soviet space program. I cried through most of the book.
A quote from Gazenko captures everything best: "Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog."