Faye's Reviews > The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
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's review
May 06, 2011

liked it

This first book of this series has a lot going for it: a suspenseful writing style; rich vocabulary; a tight, yet exciting plot line; good research; a critically acclaimed author, but about halfway through, I had to ask myself, "Why is it that I just don't seem to like it?"

Then I remembered the terms "Mary Sue" and "Gary Stu." That's it! We've got a female lead that:

- has tragically lost both parents
- runs away from a wickedly mean (for no reason) aunt
- has lovely golden hair and good looks
- is gentle, kind and goodhearted in all ways
- is smart and brave
- does not succumb to greed

Sally's only fault is that unlike other girls of her time, she is knowledgeable about finance and firearms. The author actually explicitly states that she is more like of a girl of modern times and thereby writes off this fault and further perfects her. Of course, the firearms bit comes in handy later on.

And then there is the boy, Frederick. Cheerful, artsy, daring, chivalrous, undyingly loyal, and (spoiler) clever enough to find the mysterious ruby's location without breaking a sweat, enlisting help, or even mentioning it. Oh yeah, and not testosterone-fueled in any way, but just skilled enough to take on the bad guys when necessary. On top of that, he has a lovely sister and spare room with which he can come to Sally's aid with. His only fault? Well, he's not so good with the business side of the photography studio and he is only too relieved when Sally can put her only "weakness" to use righting the books.

More of the problem: Sally meets Frederick in the street and one day, when Sally is evading a villain and Frederick unquestioning, provides shelter. About 2 weeks later, after Sally has moved in, she asks him to help her buy some opium (for a virtuous reason we won't go into here.) He helps her. When she accidently inhales some at the opium den, and trips out, the den mother, who Frederick has some history with, is adamant that this is not the first time Sally has been under the influence. Frederick is totally unquestioning and faithful to Sally and the story moves on. I'm sorry - you meet someone in the street, let them move in, help them buy opium, get it on good authority that they are a prior user, and everything with this is fine? Your faith and admiration not only unshaken, but not even considered?

Well, I don't think I'll be reading the rest of the trilogy. However, I can say that this book has helped me better understand the difference between children's books (YA?) and adult fiction. That being said, though, there is a lot of descriptive opium use in here for a kid's book!

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