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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 9 January 2007
As seen on TV, but the book is so much better. It's a thrilling chase through the dark back streets of Victorian London, in the best traditions of Conan Doyle, but with Pullman's own very unconventional twists.

Our heroine is Sally Lockhart, and she is certainly not a conventional Victorian. Brought up by her father, she can ride and shoot and speak Hindustani, though her knowledge of French or needlework is sadly lacking. Her father's death has thrown her on the mercies of an unwelcoming relative, and realising that she will never be happy as a lady's companion, Sally takes her meagre inheritance for herself and runs away.

What she runs to, however, is a mystery. People seem strangely anxious to find her. Incomprehensible messages arrive for her, apparently from her dead father. Sally's own nightmares seem to reveal something about her past, but how can she willingly dig deeper into their horror?

Sally is a fantastic heroine, utterly (almost implausibly) unbound by the habits of the society in which she lives. With a bohemian surrounding cast, Jim the messenger boy, Frederick the handsome photographer cum detective and his actress sister Rosa, the terrified Adelaide and reliable Tumbler, Pullman paints a vivid picture that is never less than gripping.
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on 12 October 2001
Like many readers, I first encountered Philip Pullman through the Dark Materials trilogy. Enjoying those, I went on to read some of his older books too - and I wasn't disappointed!
The Ruby In The Smoke is set in the word of Victorian penny-dreadfuls, Sax Rohmer's world of opium dens and the evil Dr Fu Manchu. Heroes are square-jawed and clean-living, villians are evil twisted crones. Everything is as it should be, and the sun never sets on the British Empire.
It's not a complex book - simple virtues of honesty and loyalty to one's friends are rewarded. In the end, good triumphs over evil - but I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the evil An Lin...
4 1/2 stars, because it's not in the superlative category of The Subtle Knife, but it's still a rollicking good read.
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VINE VOICEon 1 September 2002
The Sally Lockhart books may not be quite as 'literary' as the His Dark Materials trilogy, but they are cracking good reads! If, like me, you are a sucker for the seamier side of Victorian London, you will love the menacing atmosphere of gaslit Bloomsbury and dark and dangerous docklands. The plot is complex and gripping - I would have preferred to read this at one sitting, but being an honest sort, I took it to work and read snatches in my breaks, rather than taking a sickie. What I really love about Pullman is that he is not afraid to place his child characters in 'unsuitable' situations; they fall in love, see drug use, kill in self defence, and generally behave like real people instead of conforming to the saccharine stereotype which used to enrage me as a child.
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on 5 September 2002
I read this on the back of reading the Dark Materials trilogy and after them I thought there could be no better, especially not the ruby in the smoke. Yet from the first page to the last I was completely wrong.
The new cast of characters are interesting, the fact that it is rather more realistic (apart from Will's world) than the his dark materials trilogy makes it all the better.The plot always makes a twist which you don't expect, many are unhappy but that what makes the book what it is. Its those qualities which means you cant put it down and that your constantly on the edge of your seat.
It's by far the best Pullman book I've read (i've yet to read the other three Sally Lockhart books) and it provides a good introduction to all the characters. Move over Harry Potter, Sally Lockhart's in town.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2001
After reading Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy I decided this summer to read Pullman's four books about Sally Lockhart set in Victorian England and I'm glad I did. The books are an excellent read, and Pullman has enough changes in each book to stop them becoming repetitive.
The Ruby in the Smoke is the first book of the four in which Sally discovers the truth about her past, while at the same time uncovering a mystery involving Opium Smuggling. The main characters of the other books are introduced in this book.
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on 26 May 2003
Phillip Pullman is the one and only author I know, who manages to be true to the ideals of the period he describes (the 1860s) and interesting to readers today at the same time!
The Sally Lockhart-books, sett in the 1860's and 70's, feature tragedy and romance in true Victorian style. But Sally herself is not typically Victorian. A good English girl of the 1860's was supposed to play the piano, do needle point and polite conversation. Sally rides horses, shoot, and does calculus and financial consulting!
In this first Sally Lockhart book, Sally arrives in England, after spending her childhood in India. But when she hears that her father has died in a shipwreck, she knows her life will never be the same again. The novel features more villains and more dangerous criminals than any Victorian penny-dreadfull!
History itself does not give a good novel. But this novel is great. And I reccomend it to any reader older than 12, and younger than their grandparents.
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on 4 April 2005
Having read "His Dark Materials", and been amazed by the vast scope of Pullman's ideas and entranced by his writing, I wondered if The Ruby could be so beguiling. After all the huge, multi-dimensional sets aren't available any more - Sally is confined to Victorian England - and His Dark Materials could have been a one-off.
No need to worry, gentle reader, this is a rare gem (sorry!) of a book.
The claustrophobic London of the day forms a perfect setting for a rich and gripping mystery. Sally is a courageous and likeable lead in this immersive thriller. The book is full of dark characters, believable acts of derring-do, and plenty of nasty turns.
I can't get over how much decent fiction has been written recently for the teenage market, and what a tragedy it would be if adults miss out.
If you like Holmes-esque thrillers, this is for you. Not as violent as some, but it doesn't hold back. Don't save it for the kids.
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on 11 November 2001
After reading the His Dark Materials trilogy and thouroughly enjoying it, I decided to check out some more of Philip Pullman's books. I found the Ruby in the Smoke in my local bookshop and decided to give it a go. I thought that the characters were really interesting and loved the way that so many different people from different backgrounds all ended up in the one house in Burton Street. Pullman's "baddies" always have a decent reason for their wrong doings, and we always get to know why they did what they did, or why they're doing what they're doing! I would advise anybody who likes Pullman's work to go out and buy this book, and anybody who's new to it to go out and do the same. But beware one thing, there are books that follow on from The Ruby In The Smoke, and you may never work out the correct order! But overall, an excellent read!
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on 5 November 2000
Phillip Pullman has done it again! "His Dark materials"is the best trilogy I have ever read (I have recently finished the amber spyglass)and I was preparing for his Sally Lockhart novels to be weak in comparison. But I was very wrong (thinking about it I was pretty stupid, how could any of his books be weak?)these stories are full of wit, passion, joy and heartbreaking sadness. Read this book now!In this series there is not (contrary to popular beleif)only the shadow in the north and the tiger in the well, but another called the tin princess, which is a bit different because Sally is not the star.But anyway buy this book and you'll enjoy it no end.(I say enjoy ,I mean I wept buckets over the shadow in the north ) anyway, I'll say no more.
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on 27 October 2005
Philip Pullman is great. I read his dark materials trilogy and enjoyed it. But not that much. This book had that last bit in it to turn it from 4 to 5 stars. It is set in Victorian times, where a teenaged orphan has to unravel the mystery that her father sent her before he died. With the help of an abstract photographer, a page boy and a reverend, she must find out what "The Ruby" is, and why her father wanted her to have it.
This is told in a similar way to Sherlock Holmes, and is just as dark and mysterious. Full of Opium, sailors and dark streets. Very good read.
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