The Ruby in the Smoke
London, Scholastic, 2012, 209p
I haven't read Philip Pullman for years, so it was like reading The Ruby in the Smoke for the first time, all over again.
This is the first of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries - a series set in London at the end of the 19th century. After discovering that her father has drowned at sea, Sally received an anonymous note, which leads her into a world of conspiracy and danger. The novel is a sharp, enticing adventure, with a brilliant supporting cast of loyal friends and Gothic villains. My favourite is Jim, a errand boy turned hero, who finds an inner bravery that helps him to protect Sally. Also, he reads the Penny Dreadfuls, and so is very clever and literary for such an impoverished young man.
Now that I am older, I can appreciate the art and intelligence that has gone into this novel. Pullman has thoroughly researched London and Oxford during this period - short of time travelling, he has done everything to recreate this historical world. At the end of this edition, he has copied a short extract of Dickens' Dictionary of London, which is an encyclopedia of London society during the 1890s. Having read more widely, I have a different appreciation for this novel as an adult. I understand it better in the context of works that were written at the time, and stories that have been written more recently about the past. And of all that is available, this is one of my favourites.
I love a gripping crime mystery, and this one works perfectly for young adults: with the right mix of age-appropriate character to whom the reader can relate; with enough drama and excitement to keep them interested; and with historical accuracy to bring Victorian London to life.