“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.”
The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman
Frances and I will soon be heading to see Phillip Pullman discuss his new book and fairy tales. I realized that I have only ever read the His Dark Material series by Phillip Pullman. While looking at his list of published books, this series caught my eye. How often do you get to read about a Victorian girl solving crime? Plus, I really needed a new audio-book to listen to on my way to work, so I took a chance.
The plot for this is that young Sally Lockhart is an orphan; she has never known her mother and her father recently died when his ship sunk. She receives a cryptic letter that is sent on her father’s behalf, and when she asks someone about a phrase from it, the person dies. This starts her on the path to discover what her father knew, what happened to him, and on the way find her way in the world without him. Sally meets a ragtag group of new friends that give her a place to live, a job, and help in her search for the truth.
I really don’t want to say too much more since it is a mystery, and the mystery is intriguing. While I am not sure of how accurate some of the historical information is, it permeates everything in the story. Some of the issues Sally faces are a direct result of the standing women have in that time. Yet she is a very modern and strong girl, she just doesn’t know it at the beginning. She was raised to be able to shoot, ride, direct armies, and balance financial books, not the typical skills of the time. But she is also determined, and meets just the right group of people.
I really liked this book, and it was interesting enough that I was able to pay attention as I walked. The twists at the end were surprising, but not completely out of left field. There was a bit at the end that was so bittersweet it had me tearing up just a little as I was walking (talk about awkward), but there were other times I was smiling as I figured things out before the characters. I am looking forward to listening to the next book in the series, which is set 6 years after the events in this one.
Final Verdict: Full speed ahead. A good mystery, at a decent pace, with good characters, and a strong female lead. So get your headphones and jump in.