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The Ruby in the Smoke (Cover to Cover) Audio Cassette – Audiobook, 5 Nov 2001
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|Audio Cassette, Audiobook, 5 Nov 2001||
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" A rip-roaring adventure story filled with cutthroat villains, dastardly deeds, sleazy opium dens, filthy London slums, and a delightful heroine...Splendid descriptions, plot twists and turns, and understated humor engage readers in this tale of murder, mayhem, and mystery." --School Library Journal (starred review) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An unabridged reading of Philip Pullman's nerve-shattering thriller, set in the murky streets and opium dens of Old London. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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Aside from that, a shame that the ending sort of fizzles out.
That said, previous reviewers who complained about Sally's absence are, I think, missing the point. This remains an excellent adventure story, and if all the attention was on Sally, we'd never get to know Jim and his co-adventurers better.
The story itself starts in London, but quickly moves to a small European kingdom called Razkavia. This is reminiscent of nothing so much as Anthony Hope's Ruritania (see his Prisoner of Zenda novels), and indeed the theme of an English commoner caught up in the affairs of minor european Royalty could have come straight from Hope's pen. Add an imprisoned prince, a crucial treaty, threatening foreign empires (Germany and Austria-Hungary), idealistic student-philosophers, a few swords and pistols, and steam-trains rushing through the snowy, forested night... and you have the recipe for an adventure story that will keep you up past bed-time while you read just one more chapter...
In short, ignore the complaints about Sally's absence. This story belongs to her friends, and they carry it off brilliantly.
Becky Winter, hired to teach the "lady of the house" reading, writing and German is not a little surprised that her new employers are a target for anarchists, but she is even more surprised when she finds out that said employer is Crown Prince Rudolf of Razkavia, her native country. Little larger than an English county, it lies between two political giants of late 19th-century Europe: Germany and Austria-Hungary. Both Empires are all too eager to annex Razkavia, for the tin mines there would be very useful in building their armies. And hardly has Becky learned all this than she makes another new acquaintance: Jim Taylor, private detective and current right-hand-man to Prince Rudolf. But Jim's real loyalty lies not with Rudolf but Rudolf's wife: a cockney girl by name of Adelaide, for whom Jim and his best friend Sally Lockhart have been searching for ten years...
Its a good idea to read the first three Sally Lockhart books before you start "Tin Princess": Sally does not play a central role here, but Adelaide and Jim are much more interesting characters if you know about their background. Pullman pits them here against everyone from scheming diplomats to revolutionaries to Bismarck himself (via a pompous chamberlain and a bar brawl or two) - and they are fantastic. So is Pullman's writing: he evokes 19th-century Europe with amazing ease and style, and wonderful comic timing. Adelaide's Cockney English is excellently deployed to get the most laughs out of any situation, no matter how serious, and Jim is always a terrific protagonist (the scene in the cellar captures every aspect of him in three pages, without Pullman once drifting off into long-winded ruminations on his character - simply marvellous). Becky, from whose point of view much of the book is narrated, is also very good. She doesn't have Sally's fire, but then, who does?
It is the extraordinary story of people who are fighting to preserve what they believe in - Razkavia - in the face of overwhelming odds, written with all Pullman's considerable skill and ending with glorious heroism and the sense that the battle may be over, but the war is not. I know most people prefer well-rounded happy-ends, but I love books that - like this one - end with exciting possibilities...
In reality this is Pullman's take on the Ruritanian novel, and is typically uncompromising. Take a small country stuck between great powers and would *really* happen? If someone who never expected to inherit a throne found himself on it, how well would he *really* cope? Fortunately Pullman's answers include the necessary addition of people with courage and determination, and (necessarily) a great deal more luck than anyone deserves, and you end up with a good story. Good enough to lead this reader to look for sequels, though they would be very difficult to do successfully.
There are disappointments - some readers will be upset that Sally Lockhart hardly makes an appearance. More seriously the character from whose view we see the story, Becky, is not really the heroine - that position belongs to the unlikeliest character in the book, the "Tin Princess" herself, Adelaide once the downtrodden skivvy from "The Ruby in the Smoke". Becky learns about life, romance and herself - a little - but many readers must feel a bit cheated in not having her given a story of her own as well. There is also a problem in that one of the strands of the story - a physically passionate love affair - has to be handled very allusively in a book sold to younger readers, though Pullman does an excellent job.
For fans of the Ruritanian novel, the problem lies in Pullman's unwillingness to suspend the rules of history or psychology for the benefit of royalty - or for little states with good scenery.
So readers need to be warned - put your preconceptions aside before you start. Having done that, you are in for a treat. The writing is skillful, the plotting masterly and the pace breakneck. Pullman's compassion for all his characters - including the unsympathetic ones - remains as persuasive as ever. He also plays fair with the reader - this is a very good story - not a lesson in historical morality.
But it would be nice to have more about Becky - another book maybe, Mr Pullman?
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