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Sally Lockhart #1

The Ruby in the Smoke

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Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty. Her knowledge of English literature, French, history, art and music is non-existent, but she has a thorough grounding in military tactics, can run a business, ride like a Cossack and shoot straight with a pistol.

When her dear father is drowned in suspicious circumstances in the South China Sea, Sally is left to fend for herself, an orphan and alone in the smoky fog of Victorian London. Though she doesn't know it, Sally is already in terrible danger. Soon the mystery and the danger will deepen - and at the rotten heart of it all lies the deadly secret of the ruby in the smoke...

230 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

Philip Pullman

298 books23.6k followers
As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader's mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I'm not going to explain.

Anyway, I'm not in the message business; I'm in the "Once upon a time" business.

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, which has been named one of the top 100 novels of all time by Newsweek and one of the all-time greatest novels by Entertainment Weekly. In 2004, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He lives in Oxford, England.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,726 reviews
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
434 reviews4,254 followers
May 6, 2023
This book is certainly not one of Philip Pullman’s best.

The Ruby in the Smoke is a mystery set in London in 1872. A young woman, sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart, has learned that her father has died. However, matters are a bit more complicated, and Sally is on the hunt to get some answers. Just how exactly did Sally’s father die?

Although there were flickers of great storytelling, this isn’t the high-quality storytelling that is Pullman’s hallmark.

“Her name was Sally Lockhart, and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.”

That line on the first page definitely grabbed my attention!

However, Pullman made some very odd choices in The Ruby in the Smoke. Now, the other mysteries set in the late 1800’s in London that I am familiar with would be Sherlock Holmes which is a collection of short stories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to get to the point quickly. The Ruby in the Smoke is an entire novel, and it was just so slow. It would have been so much better as a short story. Philip Pullman is more than capable of writing an incredible short story—I’ve read plenty of them!

There are also way, way too many characters in this book: Rosa, Sally, Trembler, Jim, Mr. Berry, Mrs. Holland, the lawyer, Adelaide, Bedwell x2, Mr. Higgs, Mr. Selby, Mr. Marchbanks, Frederick, Mrs. Rees, and more. Some of these characters don’t add any value to the story, and there are too many of them to have an interesting backstory.

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Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
July 27, 2013
You know this smart and swiftly paced Victorian mystery is written for young adults, right? You know that doesn't mean dumbed down or raw, but rather that it should not be cluttered up with obtrusive literariness or head-scratching ephemera. You say that Pullman struggles with figurative language and that he doesn't find his own voice and I have to say... what exactly do you mean by 'figurative language' and how is he struggling with it? I saw no such struggle and I read a very specific voice. Pullman pulls off a YA adventure without dumbing it down and his voice is clearly an intelligent and political and subtle one. perhaps too subtle? he up-ends various conventions of the genre: the heroine doesn't solve the mystery herself (it happens off-stage! highly unusual and refreshing and without melodrama); her skills are in accounting rather than detection; she lives in the Victorian era and all that implies regarding the status of women - yet she doesn't sigh or moon about wistfully over love, she doesn't stress about manners, she is forthright and intelligent and bold without becoming a unrealistic wish fulfillment version of a Victorian heroine. she fits perfectly within her time and still manages to stand out in her own particular way.

You say the characters are flat and uninteresting; I say we must have read different books! the characters, both heroes & villains, practically jumped off of the page for me, each one a tasty and compelling creation. there was a not-so-underlying theme of the importance of equality and one of the most clever ways that Pullman gets his point across is by bringing together an entirely disparate crew of well-realized supporting characters and making them all perform and interact as equals. that was a lovely thing to behold and it was made so heartwarming - yet without sickly sweet sentiment. the book makes equality feel like the most natural thing in the world. You thought the central villain was dull! that vicious old lady is one of the more memorable villains I've experienced in young adult fiction. mad, bad, and dangerous to know; cruel and cunning and given a particularly surprising and compelling backstory. You say the heroine isn't much of a role model; I must beg to differ! sure she does a questionable thing or two - does she need to be perfect? don't challenging times mean a person has to do a challenging thing or two, something they very well may regret? is it the opium that bothered you? well it bothered me too - just as it clearly was intended. England's sickening role in the opium trade with China bothers me and it certainly bothers the author; thus no punches are pulled. I applaud that. did you not understand that you were actually picking up a book by Phillip Pullman and not by the Lollipop Guild?
Profile Image for Chrissie.
661 reviews
December 17, 2007
i read this trilogy approximately 7.5 million times when i was younger. so good. and it taught me all i know about opium use. no kidding.
Profile Image for Larissa.
Author 6 books44 followers
December 10, 2008
With a subtitle of "A Sally Lockhart Mystery," one might expect the first installment of said series to be about a girl who restores pinched puppies to their rightful dowdy owners. And you wouldn't be more wrong! The Ruby in the Smoke introduces Sally, a self-made woman already at 16 years old, with an accidental death and a call to action. Her father has died under mysterious circumstances, and it's up to her (and eventually a merry, ragtag band of comrades including an equally quickwitted young photographer) to avenge his death and put a whole host of non-puppy related things to rights.

What's more, the books are set in 19th century London. This makes the book extra-engaging for two reasons:

1.) Sally's quick-thinking, independent woman ways get her branded a heathen from the very start. It makes it harder for her to succeed in any endeavor outside of lacing up a corset, and when she does tenfold it's all the more cheer-worthy and inspiring.

2.) Old timeyness factor! Peeps be wearing waistcoats.

Overall, this is a fantastic start to a series about the strength found in resourcefulness, self-discipline, and friendship forged on the path to bringing down a wicked opium lord.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,252 reviews236 followers
November 27, 2022
It’s easy to see where the strength of Lyra Belacqua came from!

Sally Lockhart is a sixteen year old orphan, independently wealthy by bequest, but hamstrung and constrained by the misogynistic rules of Victorian England. When she walks away from life with her mean-spirited aunt, it will take all of her wiles to avoid the legal clutches of the domineering lawyer who is the executor of the estate left to her by her father. On top of dealing with that, she soon finds herself up to her bloomers in murder and mayhem – a mystery swirling around letters, puzzles, opium, smuggling, Chinese secret societies and a priceless ruby.

Sally Lockhart is an enigmatic, strong, courageous, multi-faceted heroine. She’s also easy to like, easy to care about and easy to cheer for. How’s this for a description of a unique, young polymath?

“Mr Lockhart taught his daughter himself in the evenings, and let her do as she pleased during the day. As a result, her knowledge of English Literature, French, History, Art and Music was non-existent, but she had a thorough grounding in the principles of military tactics and book-keeping, a close acquaintance with the affairs of the Stock Market, and a working knowledge of Hindustani. Furthermore, she could ride well (though her pony would not agree to the Cossack procedure); and for her fourteenth birthday her father had bought her a little Belgian pistol, the one she carried everywhere and taught her to shoot. She was now nearly as good a shot as her mother. She was solitary, but perfectly happy …”

One might definitely wonder if Nancy Springer took the liberty of taking a page (and an idea or two) from Philip Pullman’s book when she created Enola Holmes, Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger daughter, who lived in London with that same gritty streak of determined independence.

I’m definitely a new Sally Lockhart fan and I’m looking forward to finding a copy of THE SHADOW IN THE NORTH, #2 in a series that is sure to be exciting and entertaining. I should also add that, in addition to character and plot development, THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE does an excellent job of evoking that creepy, fog-bound and mysterious Victorian setting that fans of the historical mystery genre are so familiar with.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for LorCon.
90 reviews1 follower
December 19, 2008
I'm a big fan of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, so I thought I would give this a try. Heck, I even liked the Golden Compass movie (two words--Daniel Craig). This is what librarians call "young adult" literature i.e. "for teenagers." As such, I find it a bit disturbing. I'm a far cry from a book-burning censor but this heroine is not my idea of a role model. Set in Victorian London, Sally Lockhart is an orphan (of course)who falls in with a Dickensian cast of characters to solve her father's murder. She packs a pistol and dabbles with opium, but has to get a man to purchase them for her. It doesn't even occur to her to try to solve the riddle...she's too busy embarking on a career as an accountant! She's also rather too quick to tell all her secrets to everyone she meets. And pretty much everyone ends up conveniently dead. Oh, dear. Where is Nancy Drew when we need her? Pullman should stick to insulting religion.
Profile Image for Fiona.
319 reviews343 followers
February 2, 2016
Hold your horses, everyone, the twenty-something nostalgia has set in. I’m noticing a couple of good, classic books for youngsters working their way back under my fictional radar in the last few months. I read Ruby in the Smoke when I was about twelve or thirteen, probably lured by the promise of Victorians, intrigue and lady-heroes who are good at accountancy. (I was that kind of child. My private games tended to involve a pencil and paper and the question “How would I run this as a self-supporting enterprise?”) When lately it occurred to me that a story idea I’ve been playing with very much harks back to this, I thought I’d pick up a second-hand copy and see if I liked it as much as I remembered.

This is a book for my hypothetical future daughter, for a start. Sally Lockhart is a fabulous heroine. She’s independent and can look out for herself, but she's not particularly streetwise or rebellious or ‘spunky', and that’s okay. She’s got business acumen and staying power but she believes the best of people and makes a quiet virtue of treating them well. She’s not got weird-coloured hair or special skills, she’s neither exceptionally well-provided for nor rags-and-scraps poor, she’s not a chosen one in any way. She doesn’t sound like a YA heroine, or at least not the ones I’ve read. She sounds, in my head, a bit like younger me. Naturally I think she’s marvellous and I want my hypothetical future daughter to understand that good book-keeping and cheerfully volunteering to help with things are also character traits that can go with being a hero. Also that if you are going to smoke things, there is a clever way to do it and there is a not-clever way to do it.

The main villain is genuinely creepy, and gets through dim-witted sidekicks at an alarming rate. She made a better villain before her reasons were explained – why are they so often so disappointing? Is it just that when we know a villain’s reasons for acting, they cease to be part of that ominous dark cloud of mystery in our imaginations? – but if I were Philip Pullman, I would have saved the final reveal (in the cab) for a different book. Or at least strung it out a bit. It was a little anticlimactic. Another thirty pages to build it up into something I cared about a little more, and this might have got bumped up another star.

I just like anonymous notes and questing and housebreaking in search of mysterious papers and Baker Street Irregulars and people dropping dead in solicitors’ offices. I like sixteen year olds who know how to clean a pistol and also to negotiate contracts. I like scruffy photographers who wouldn’t get away with being such a low-key sort-of-vaguely love interest if this had been written in 2013, not 1987. I like pirates and Victorian-melodrama-shadowy-villainous-foreigners. This book did not knock me for six. But I enjoyed the hell out of it, and after some of the other stuff I’ve been reading of late, it is nice to dive straight back into the middle of my comfort zone and romp around for a bit.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,475 followers
March 20, 2018
Actual rating 3.5/5 stars.

This is the first instalment in the Sally Lockhart quartet, which is a Victorian-era series following amateur sleuth, Sally Lockhart, as she attempts to solve the mysteries of London's dark underbelly, as well as those muddying her own past.

I really enjoyed putting my observation skills to the test, along with protagonist Sally, and getting an introduction to the other memorable characters that joined in with her detecting. This novel provided a pretty vast cast, but all had their own distinct parts to play in solving the mystery that entwines all their lives, and so none felt surplus to the narrative. I also enjoyed this insight to Victorian society and how Sally disallowed herself to become a passive spectator to her fate.

I did find, however, that some of the scenes felt a little melodramatic in their construction. Cliched characters and a simplicity of statement made this feel aimed at the younger end of YA and, as an older reader, this made it hard to fully resonate with this novel, in its entirety. This was certainly fun, with a sprinkling of suspense, but I found it a little sentimental, on times, which hindered me from fully adoring this novel.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
December 21, 2015
Sally Lockhart is an orphan during the 1879s in London. She begins to discover the truth about her father, while being menaced by some very creepy characters.

I enjoyed this far more than the Golden Compass books, as the narrative wasn't marred by the high whine of Pullman's anti-Narnia axe being ground. The narrative voice dips into condescension here and there, but that actually fits period literature for younger readers, and the atmosphere of London's darker reaches was vivid and evocative.

It was a fun three hour read, but didn't leave me with the desire to search out more, though if they come my way I will.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
August 9, 2011
I always find myself frustrated when authors can't seem to think of anything bad for their characters to overcome, and so they have to create some unbelievably vindictive and amoral villain just so there is some central conflict. The main character gets along with everyone and always finds satisfying solutions to any momentary setback.

The only problems such super-protagonists can't solve are those which they don't yet know the details of, so Pullman gives us a faux-mystery to keep the character in the dark, but requires too many leaps for the reader to be able to puzzle things out. Then, he has one of the secondary characters wrap the entire thing up offstage near the climax.

This was especially bothersome because he just threw out all of the lead-up (i.e., the mystery), and instead gave us a climax which had little to do with anything previous in the book.

Pullman's writing was just as raw as his plotting, and you could see him struggling to use figurative language. In the end, he never finds a solid voice, and most of his characters end up as rather predictable placeholders.

It wasn't a bad book, and it had its moments, here and there, but it lifted its plot from the seminal mystery story, The Moonstone, and in all other regards seemed to be aping Kipling and Conrad.

Not that those are bad sources from which to take inspiration, but Pullman isn't doing anything new here, nor does he demonstrate the florid voice and sense of character which made those authors stand out. He tries to overcome this by giving us of little details about Victorian London, but most of them are just bits of geography, and one never gets a sense of the amazing, alien place evoked by Mayhew's London Poor.
Profile Image for Peter.
Author 12 books313 followers
December 16, 2015
I'm a big fan of 'His Dark Materials' and 'Ruby in the Smoke' is set in a similar Victorian world, but without the steampunk or magical elements. It's a murder mystery where teenage orphan Sally Lockhart searches for her father's killer and tries to discover his connection to the Ruby of the title and the significance of his last warning to her - 'Beware the seven blessings.'

At around 200 pages it was a quick read. The writing is not quite as sophisticated as 'His Dark Materials', but is still really good and captures the Victorian turn of phrase very well. I can see some Dickensian influence and I imagine a bit from Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle too. Occasionally there were a few last minute liberties written into the story to make things work - suddenly discovering Frederick is an expert climber is one that springs to mind and there was another one that was to do with the ruby. The villain Mrs Holland is a great character, but unlike Mrs Coulter, I didn't quite buy the web of influence and power she seemed to have accrued. There were also lots of good London locations and secondary characters. I will definitely read the next one in the series.
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,232 reviews
August 13, 2017
Okay this was one of those titles I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get - and I must admit I was quite surprised and rather pleased.

First of all lets get something out of the way - this is NOT His Dark Materials, this is a purely historical story set in and around London in the 1870s.

That said what you have here is a historical thriller set in the sprawling city of London which would not be out of place in the pages of a Dickensian story or a tale from Arthur Conan Doyle. (Yes they represent different eras, its more how they present the city as a character all of its own. Which even with no dialogue still commands a presence in any scene it is in - read the descriptions of the locations Sally and her companions find themselves in you will see what I mean).

But what the story - well that as usual would give spoilers something I will not do, however the story does travel at a pace and although it is presented for a certain reading group I would not dismiss it (something Pullman has campaigned against was labelling books for specific reading ages or genders). There is a depth and maturity to it that gives the story a realistic feel without either being condescending or naive. We cover the gamete of Opium trade and use, murder, extortion and class prejudices, it is a very mature story.

Now I will admit that this is the first of a series books so I assume that we will see these characters again and see how they develop. Along with Sally Lockhart you have a number of supporting characters of whom vary in depth and back story - it would be good to see how these people grow and mature throughout the series.

So if you enjoy a fast paced historical mystery this book is a good place to start. Philip Pullman is a gifted writer and although he does not need anyone to sign his praises this book certainly stands testament to that.
Profile Image for Christine PNW.
712 reviews195 followers
February 21, 2017
I first stumbled on this as an audiobook, and decided to reread because I needed a book written by an author named "Philip" for a challenge. It was just as much fun as I remembered. Very different from Pullman's other, more famous series, this one is really a piece of Victorian pulp fiction. I will definitely be tracking down the sequels.
Profile Image for Aneca.
957 reviews127 followers
March 5, 2008
I started this book with great expectation having heard so much about Pullman and his His Dark Materials books. Besides it is set in Victorian London and I love those stories.

Have you ever heard the phrase The Seven Blessings?
That question causes a man to die of shock, and propels Sally Lockhart into a desperate adventure that will expose the deepest secrets of the corrupt and murderous opium trade.
Sally is sixteen when the story begins, orphaned and alone. She's had an unconventional education: her knowledge of English Literature, French, History, Art and Music is non-existent, but she has a thorough grounding in military tactics, can run a business, ride like a Cossack and shoot straight with a pistol. When her father is drowned in suspicious circumstances in the South China Sea, Sally soon finds herself in terrible danger too - and at the rotten heart of it all lies the deadly secret of the ruby in the smoke.

I found he has a great way to describe characters and setting, I could almost see Sally and the Garlands and Mrs Holland going about the streets of London. However I think there were some problems with the plot. It's supposedly a mystery however I never felt a suspense thrill, it mentions opium dens and shady characters but only in some few selected scenes did I feel that dark atmosphere. Sally never really interested me much, she is supposedly the sleuth that is going to discover everything but I felt that we get as much information from the villains if not more than from Sally. She was more worried in trying to remember the past and to know why her father was killed than actually looking for the lost ruby or helping save Adelaide when that was needed. I could never really warm up to her. On the other hand I really liked Jim and Rosa and would really like to know what happened to Adelaide.

The bad guys are really bad, namely the infamous Mrs Holland but it seems she manages to hurt everybody except Sally, who is supposedly the real target! Isn't that odd? Besides the story is slowly revealed, at times too slowly and then in the last chapters everything is solved with a nicely thought twist to explain everything and every character involved.

It seems to me that the idea behind the story was a good one (I keep thinking of Emilio Salgari's stories because of the indian bad guys and the famous cursed jewel) but somehow the final result is not as good as it should be.

Grade: C+
Profile Image for Evelina | AvalinahsBooks.
880 reviews446 followers
September 15, 2018
I was supposed to review this after we'd read the entire series, but since I'm buddy reading it with boyfriend, I might go gray before we finish the series :D

I suppose you could say I liked this book alright, but it doesn't hold a candle to The Big Series By The Genius That Is Pullman (you know which one I mean). The characters are written nicely, it reads fast and the intrigue is truly great. If I read this when I was a teen, I would have probably gobbled it up! But when you read something like this after you've read Pullman's Greatest Masterpiece, it's just hard to think of it too highly.

So basically, read it, but read it before you read His Dark Materials xD otherwise, it's a great book!
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,168 reviews137 followers
August 8, 2019
The final outstanding category in my book bingo for the year was to read the first book by a favourite author. Looking over the books I have logged on my Goodreads account, Pullman was up there. I don’t have one favourite author but loved the 'Northern Lights' trilogy. Having read 'The Ruby in the Smoke' frequently when I was growing up, I thought it was high time to revisit that feeling of youthfulness!

I think this book, the start of a four-part series (reviews to be following soon), are an ideal read for a young adult, even pre-teenager. We have a strong, female heroine with the likes of Sally, and a likeable supporting cast. Set in Victorian London, we follow a mystery that involves Sally, the unexpected death of her father, and a precious ruby. When Sally first starts out, she is dramatically isolated, but quickly makes friends. Jim, Fred and Trembler are wonderful friends to her and show readers that companions can be supportive and never expecting something in return.

With all good mysteries we have a positive protagonist and then the evil villain. In this case, Mrs Holland is chilling, creepy and quite evil. She is determined and unstoppable; totally immoral, she is the antithesis to Sally in strength and loyalties. I found Mrs Holland rather chilling and, coupled with the recurrent motif of opium, this could make a rather dark novel for younger readers. Pullman goes into a lot of detail of the effects of this narcotic and yes, it can be used as a deterrent to drugs, it is all rather dark and like a nightmare. Opium and the opium dens are a key part to the progression of the plot, so this is something to consider if offering this book to a younger reader.

Whilst I really enjoy reading Pullman’s writing, this is not an example of his strongest fiction- perhaps because it is the first novel he published? I remember having this feeling when I read this series many years ago: deducing that other books in the series were more enjoyable and a lot less dark. True, the plot does move at a pace and there is plenty of intrigue in the mystery. However, aside from getting to know the key characters, this was not the most exciting.

I am pleased to be able to revisit a series from my childhood. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books although, it is probably for the last time. If you are looking for a well-written, creepy Victorian mystery with a range of characters to suit all tastes however, then I think that maybe this book will suit your needs.
Profile Image for Raúl Omar.
59 reviews16 followers
November 25, 2017
I liked this book, yet, not as much as I expected. I was eager to read this book because I truly enjoyed the Shadow in the North some years ago, believing it was the first in the series and later I discovered there was a previous book.

In her first adventure, Sally finds herself in the middle of a quite complicated situation involving murder, deceit, ambition and danger, but she also meets good friends and starts to develop her character and discovers that she is a strong girl who can help others and overcome the situation.

I read this book really fast, has a very good pacing and Pullman keeps the suspense for the whole novel. I didn't like this as much as I expected because, though the the plot is quite interesting, and becomes more intricate and complicated as you turn the pages, towards the end, the motives are unclear and everything happens so fast I failed to grasp what was happening.

On the other hand, the characters are not as well developed as in other Lockhart's novels. Concerning this, I have to accept that my perception of character development might be biased by the fact that I was familiar to a later version of the characters. Taking this into account, it was for me pretty interesting to meet the characters I already loved from a new perspective.

Profile Image for Angie.
645 reviews1,013 followers
January 26, 2015
I remember buying my copy of THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE at a B. Dalton bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. I liked the cover with the young girl in the cape holding something mysterious in a white handkerchief for a slightly creepy old woman to inspect. But, in the end, this was yet another example of a book I bought for the opening lines alone.
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.
She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.

Yeah, there was sort of no way my 12-year-old self wasn't going to make a beeline to the cash register with that one. All I knew was that it was set in Victorian London, it was a mystery, and it clearly featured a girl I wanted to get to know better. I had no idea it was the first in a trilogy, or how involved I would become in the incredibly intricate plot that stretches out over all three books. It should be noted that Pullman published a fourth volume almost ten years after THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, but it is less of a direct sequel and more a companion novel to the original trilogy.

Sally Lockhart is so very far from your average 16-year-old. Even your average 16-year-old in 19th century London. Her father has recently been murdered and she is intent on uncovering the identity of his killer and bringing the villain to justice. As such, she comes to his offices in London to meet with his partner and find out if he knows anything about Mr. Lockhart's demise or the phrase, "Beware the seven blessings," which she came across in a fragment of a letter sent to her from Singapore. Shortly after her arrival she becomes embroiled in another murder, the vagaries of the opium trade, and the mystery of the disappearance of the fabled Ruby of Agrapur. Along the way she encounters a few associates who become true friends, including a young scarecrow of an errand boy named Jim Taylor and an amiable photographer by the name of Frederick Garland. She will have need of her friends before the game is played out and she races against the clock to make sense of her convoluted past and discover just who is behind the strange web of betrayal and deceit that has taken over her life.

Everyone is familiar with Philip Pullman's much more famous His Dark Materials trilogy. I snatched up the first book when it came out because I was already a huge Pullman fan because of the Sally Lockhart books. And I enjoyed The Golden Compass just fine. But I got halfway through The Subtle Knife and the whole thing just...petered out for me. I'm still not exactly sure what happened except that I kept wishing the entire time I was reading about Sally instead. But in my experience few people have read this set of excellent mysteries. They are dark, dire, and grim, to be sure. But they are also absolutely delightful. And bite-your-nails-to-the-quick intense. Sally herself is such a strong character--a perfect blend of independence, diffidence, integrity, and intelligence. Following her growth and development over the course of the trilogy is an absolutely moving experience. Each book matures in both subject matter and length. THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE reads like Dickens meets Arthur Conan Doyle meets Lloyd Alexander and that combination proved too charming for me to resist. I could not put it down until I finished it and I immediately went out and bought the next two books. They did not disappoint, but rather ratcheted up the stakes with each passing page. Pullman somehow manages to create the atmosphere of a vintage penny dreadful, while peopling it with fully fleshed out characters who work their way seamlessly into the reader's heart and affections. In fact, I vividly remember breaking down sobbing while reading a certain scene in the second book--The Shadow in the North. It is one of my very first memories of connecting with a set of characters so much it was physically painful to me to watch them suffer. An engrossing series highly recommended, particularly for fans of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series.
Reading order: THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, The Shadow in the North, and The Tiger in the Well. Companion novel: The Tin Princess.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
798 reviews178 followers
October 27, 2018
This is the first of the Sally Lockhart mystery series by Pullman, in which we see sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart, a young lady who has skills very different from other young ladies of her time, faced with her father’s death at sea, and a mystery surrounding it and the company that he ran. The story opens with her visiting the offices of the shipping company, where the person she speaks to about the matter literally drops down dead. Soon enough, it is apparent that the mystery surrounding the firm and Mr Lockhart’s death is a far from simple matter, and Sally’s life is in grave danger. One menacing character complete with goons is certainly out to get her. And she must sort it all out herself. Along the way, she befriends an office boy Jim Taylor, and photographer Frederick Garland, and his sister Rosa, who also lead fairly unconventional lives, and in whose home, she finds a life very different from one she’s been leading so far with her aunt.

This was a fun read with definite shades of the Blue Carbuncle, and the Sign of the Four, which made it all the more interesting for me. Sally is a girl with great spunk and some interesting skills, and a pretty likeable character as are Jim Taylor and the Garlands, and Trembler. I enjoyed the mystery element as well, and wasn’t able to work it all out, neither the whodunit nor some of the other secrets that are revealed as we read on. I liked that Pullman wrapped up the story more or less neatly, but also left a couple of threads open to carry the series forward. Great fun!
Profile Image for Rhiannon.
61 reviews44 followers
June 22, 2012
Philip Pullman might have the biggest pair of balls in YA Lit. In my first foray into Pullman's work, he killed God and encouraged teen sex to heal the world. In The Ruby In The Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery, his teenage heroine is encouraged to use drugs to fill in the plot-holes of her life, and she shoots and kills an evil pirate, with a gun she had locked and loaded in her handbag. Lolz - love it!

The setting of The Ruby... is perhaps my favorite setting ever: Victorian London. The East End, Wapping, The Seven Dials - been there before in real Victorian novels - and this felt just as authentic to me as it did when I was reading the literature of the period. (In fact, because of this book, I can't get the setting out of my head, and have followed with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).

As you might expect, there are several Victorian-y or "Dickensian" moments in The Ruby..., including some very lucky coincidences and an inheritance plot. This was a very enjoyable read...but, it's hard to imagine a young-YA feeling the vibe of this ultimately-kind-of-dark mystery. Tell you what though - I'd want to hang out with the totally-rad-actual-YA that did read the Sally Lockhart mysteries...Yeah, we'd be friends...
Profile Image for Aleena.
210 reviews30 followers
April 21, 2020
DNF 58%

I had a really hard time trying to get into this book. What makes it more disappointing is that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is one of my all-time favourites. The book had all the right ingredients (a mystery set in Victorian London), but the end product did not add up.

The book follows Sally Lockhart, a sixteen year old girl, as she tries to uncover the mysteries surrounding her father's death. She also has to contend with individuals who have ulterior motives regarding her life.

At the start, it felt as though too many things were happening too quickly. The story did become easier to follow as it progressed, but I struggled to connect with it. Certain events happening felt too convenient, just for the sake of advancing the plot.

The characters, whilst likeable enough, seemed very surface level. I didn't gain a deep understanding of what motivates them or their personalities.

Pullman's writing was the only strong point here. He created a vivid picture of Victorian London, with an enchanting atmosphere.

Usually the writing is what makes or breaks the novel for me, but in this case my lack of connection with the plot and characters made it a difficult read.
Profile Image for Amanda.
840 reviews343 followers
April 6, 2020
This was well written and had impressively subtle world building and characterization. The mystery was a bit complicated, but not confusing. There was a huge tone shift from beginning, which felt almost like a cozy mystery, to the end, which felt bleak, gritty and hopeless.
Profile Image for First Second Books.
560 reviews561 followers
March 26, 2012
When I read these books when I was a teenager, I don’t think I realized quite how crazy it was that Sally went off and became a financial advisor instead of staying and managing the photographic studio. My general reaction to her (I thought) misguided decision to pursue the life of finance was, ‘well, that’s stupid and boring.’ (It’s possible that I was a very young teenager at the time.) Re-reading these, it’s fascinating to see how Pullman presents Sally’s life in a very male-dominated world, and how he presents her slowly-changing reaction to this very male-dominated world. Also, you know, adventure!
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books49 followers
February 17, 2022
I enjoyed this early novel by the author, the first in a series about the character of Sally Lockhart. Sally (whose real name is Veronica) is a barely tolerated 'guest' at the house of her unpleasant aunt as the story opens, her father having been lost on a voyage in the South China Seas. Sally goes to the shipping office of the company her father co-owned with a man called Shelby. She meets Jim, an intelligent and resourceful office boy who goes on to play quite a major role in the book. When she is shown in to meet an officer of the firm and starts to mention things which have been included in an anonymous letter she has received, he keels over with a heart attack, triggering off a series of events which turn Sally's world upside down.

I enjoyed the unravelling of the mystery and the relationship between Sally and Jim and between her and some other characters who befriend and help her along the way. The main villian, Mrs Holland, is a nicely melodramatic, almost Dickensian, character.

The difficulties of being a woman in Victorian England are well portrayed - Sally has had a very unconventional education, raised by her father to handle a gun, analyse the Stock Market, understand book-keeping and speak Hindustani at a time when genteel young woman were supposed to have 'accomplishments' such as piano playing, painting pictures and having a smattering of French. As such, she struggles at first to find her way although she luckily finds a home where she can make a contribution with her skills. There is also some interesting background about the opium trade which lends a darker note to the story.

However, the story is a bit uneven. At the beginning, it comes across as being from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, with Sally described from the outside - especially the note about what she is about to (inadvertantly) do - and the reader being informed that there are three other people/events who will have an impact on Sally. This style was more like that of an actual novel of the period in which it is set. It did become less intrusive as the book went on, although there were scenes showing what some of the villains are up to, rather than staying with Sally. However, apart from her attempts to recover her own lost memories, she doesn't play a huge part in resolving the mysteries. Her focus is more on the problem of how to earn a living after leaving her aunt, as she dare not approach her father's lawyer for fear of being made a ward of court. That was interesting, but I felt that, as the protagonist, she should have had more agency in resolving the central mystery. A key part of that is instead handed off to one of the secondary characters - a major action happens off stage and we are told about it afterwards.

The book also has two climaxes because a hinted at, behind-the-scenes, villain materialises late in the story, and I also wasn't keen on the rather cliched reason for Mrs Holland's enmity towards Sally. So given those issues, I can only award it 3 stars although I did enjoy the story.
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews2,005 followers
March 9, 2013
Originally reviewed on The Book Smugglers

Sally Lockhart is sixteen years old when she loses her father. The only child of a successful merchant with a business of importing goods from far-off destinations, Sally is devastated when she learns that her father's boat has capsized somewhere off the coast of Singapore, killing him and every other soul onboard. To make matters worse, her only living relation is a distant, scornful Aunt, and her inheritance is far less than what it should be, thanks to a complication in her father's will. But what has Sally truly flummoxed is a mysterious, misspelled anonymous note she receives in the post, with the message: "Sali beware of the seven blessings. Marchbanks will help chattum. Bware darling."

Little does Sally know that her quest to understand this message, to figure out what the mysterious Seven Blessings are, who Marchbanks is, will lead to devastating revelations about her past. Her quest for answers will also lead to a mysterious ruby, and a single-minded old woman who will stop at nothing to get her hands on this prize.

Dear readers, I am incredibly remiss - I cannot believe that it took me so long to first discover that this book existed, and second, to actually read and review it. The Ruby in the Smoke is admittedly no His Dark Materials, but it is a wonderfully written and executed Victorian Mystery. And it's one I enjoyed very, very much. From the onset of the book (really, from the first paragraph introducing Sally Lockhart), I fell in love with the characters and the writing, with its universal omniscient - aka, the "Little Did She Know" foreshadowing/opinion - style. Instead of forced or affected, this writing choice feels very much like a Victorian novel, and imbues a sly character to the narration and some effective foreshadowing for twists to come as Sally and her friends unravel the mystery of the Maharajah's (cursed) missing ruby. On that note, the plot and true mystery angle of the novel is solid and executed perfectly. There are dual mysteries here, really, whose answers lie in Sally's past: the mystery of Sally's father's death (and the "seven blessings"), the mystery of the missing ruby (and the reasons why people desire it). Sally's first adventure is a story filled with secrets and reveals, with sojourns to isolated run down mansions, secret journals and hidden letters, opium dens and even pirates. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in The Ruby in the Smoke, but it never feels over-much or over-wrought - no small feat.

On a character front, this book also excels. I adore Sally Lockhart, who is a no-nonsense heroine, who has no knowledge of French or literature but knows how to balance accounts, invest in stocks and bonds, and manage a business. (On that note, can I please interject - A HEROINE THAT LOVES MATH AND ECONOMICS! YES! THIS! I freaking love it!) In addition to the smart, steady-handed and sympathetic heroine we have in Sally, we also meet a swath of different characters, villains and friends alike, over the course of this book. Mrs. Holland, the book's villain, is a terrifying figure, with her cruelty (and the frightening image of her over-large, vicious dentures) and her singular desire to seize the ruby at any cost. We never really know what drives Mrs. Holland until the end of the book, when we learn a little more about her past and her character - she's no sympathetic villain, but she has a believable backstory that fuels her misery and obsession.

The best characters, in my opinion, are the new friends that Sally makes - Jim, an apprentice clerk at Sally's shipping company with his keen insights (fueled by his love for penny dreadfuls); Frederick, the photographer who is terrible with numbers but passionate about his art (and who is quite taken with young Sally); Rosa, the vivacious, beautiful actress who has defied her family and spurned her inheritance for freedom and passion; and Adelaide, the urchin forced to do Mrs. Holland's bidding, but who finally finds friends and a brighter future. In sum, Sally has made a crew of friends with the perfect set of skills for a new investigation agency. I'm keen to see what happens in their next adventure together.

Finally, I cannot end this review without saying something about that ending! I admit to tearing up just a little bit with that emotional final discovery, and I cannot wait to read the next book in this wonderful series. Absolutely recommended.

(And clearly I must check out the 2006 BBC television adaptation - starring Billie Piper and Matt Smith in a strange out-of-sequence Doctor Who confluence of awesomeness?)

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1, the best introduction to a character, EVER:
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.

She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.

Rating: 7 - Very Good
Profile Image for Hymerka.
609 reviews102 followers
September 26, 2019
«Рубін в імлі» — це перша частина тетралогії про пригоди Саллі Локгарт, 16-річної вікторіанки, яка мешкає у Лондоні зразка 1872 року. Дівчина ніколи не знала матері, а нещодавно втратила ще й батька: Саллі отримала повідомлення, що той загинув при кораблетрощі. Він був співвласником невеликої компанії вантажних перевезень і, хоча бізнес не був надто прибутковим, такі-сякі заощадження Саллі залишив. Щоправда, їй буде нелегко ними скористатися: оскільки вона неповнолітня, її поселяють у родички, яка терпіти не може дівчину, а спадком займається адвокат, який не сприймає Саллі всерйоз. Одного разу Саллі отримує дуже загадкового листа, який затягує її у вир кримінального світу. Вбивства, грабунки, шантаж, торговці опіумом і мафія — як протистояти всьому цьому зовсім юній самотній дівчині? На щастя, батько виховав Саллі самостійною: замість вишивати біля каміна, вони здобула корисні навички, які не один раз стануть їй в нагоді. Дуже приємно було бачити таку сучасну героїню у книжці, яка була написана ще 1985 року.

Якщо ваше читацьке життя бодай трохи подібне до мого, то вам часом хочеться взятися за книжку, яка сама себе читатиме, таку, знаєте, яку можна ковтнути за вечір, може, й не з надто великою користю, проте з непідробним задоволенням. «Рубін в імлі» книжка якраз із таких. Мене дивує, що в багатьох відгуках скаржаться на пласких героїв чи непроробленість характерів. Людоньки, це вам не Букерівський лавреат, це підлітковий детектив, в основі якого пригоди і загадки. Як на мене, золотий вік для читання цієї книжки — 12-14 років. Так, усі добрі герої тут добрі без краю, а лихі — безнадійно лихі. Так, новоспечені друзі нашої героїні готові кидатися заради неї у вир небезпек, ризикуючи власним життям. І так, головна поганка — настільки поганка, що це аж карикатурно (ще й ті вставні зуби!..). Але я давно читаю Філіпа Пулмана, і можу вас запевнити, що він дядько розумний і талановитий. Його книжки із "саги про Ліру" значно складніші і витонченіші, але це не означає, що на Саллі треба махнути рукою.

Ось вам кілька плюсів, які я знайшла у цій серії:

• Головна героїня. Не те, щоб вона особливо розкрилася в першому томі, проте мені сподобалося, як автор її описує. Її суперздібності — це стрільба з револьвера і бухгалтерський облік. Саме цього навчив її люблячий батько. Він виховав у ній самостійність і відчуття власної гідності, тож коли Саллі залишається сама на цьому світі, ще й виявляє, що на неї чомусь полює надзвичайно небезпечна людина, Саллі не плаче в хусточку, а береться за діло. У вікторіанській Англії до молодої дівчини ставляться як до безпомічного декоративного створіннячка, і Саллі часом цим вміло маніпулює, проте їй таки дається знайти місце, де адекватно сприймають 16-літню юнку у якості фінансового консультанта.

• Фотосалон — місце роботи Саллі. Троє дуже молодих людей і один старший, зате з туманним минулим, намагаються дати раду маленькому бізнесу. У цьому плані «Рубін в імлі» мені перегукується із першим томом «Агенції Локвуд і Ко», який я читала пів року тому. Так само не зовсім вмілі перші кроки на шляху до успіху чи хоча б фінансової незалежності і така сама тепла і невимушена обстановка.

• Опіум. Легально не заборонений, хоча й не схвалений пристойними громадянами, опіум — це такий собі бич часу. Залежність, від якої неймовірно важко позбутися, ломка, готовність на все заради наркоти, уявляю собі, як би цікаво мені було читати це все у 12, та мені б очі на лоба полізли: усі ці наркотичні марення, усі ці притони, де залежні цілими днями вилежуються, поки їхній розум мандрує десь далеко. Дивним чином, саме опій стає каталізатором давно забутих спогадів, які дають файного штовханця сюжету.

• Вікторіанські реалії. Якщо ви спец у вікторіанстві, вас тут, певно, нічим не здивуєш, проте все на місці. Кеби, доки, вуличні злодюжки, показна мораль, захоплення боксом, тривалі, складні і небезпечні вантажні перевезення, війни за опій, стереографії, робітничі будинки.

• Українське видання. Це у мене, здається, перша книжка від «Nebo Booklab Publishing», і виконана вона дуже гарно, хоча у мене й версія "для бідних". Ті маленькі ілюстрації на початку кожного розділу мене аж зворушили. Як же давно я такого не бачила! І це справді личить цьому виданню. Перекладач помітно, що старався, наприклад, додав барв не зовсім правильній мові Джима, але дещо в перекладі мене таки напрягало, особливо "його преподобіє", здається, це відповідає українському "превелебн��сть" (в оригіналі the Reverend).
До речі, наприкінці книжки можна знайти перший розділ з наступного тому. Я досі не бачила такого у жодному українському виданні, але мені траплялося таке у британських книжках, особливо у дитячих серійних, чим, власне, і є «Таємниці Саллі Локгарт».

Між іншим, за цим і другим романом циклу є телефільми від БіБіСі, які можуть заінтригувати шанувальників «Доктора Хто», адже Саллі втілила Біллі Пайпер, а Джима — Метт Сміт (хоча вони й дещо задорослі порівняно зі своїми книжковими прототипами-підлітками).
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