HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Ruby in the Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery, Book 1
Author: Philip Pullman
Cover Illustrator: Tony Meers
Publisher: Ember, Reprinted 2008
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: said to be for ages 12 – 17; I would say 16 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Pullman,Philip. The Ruby in the Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery, Book 1 (Published in Great Britain in 1985 by Oxford University Press and in the United States in 1987 by Alfred A. Knopf Inc.; republished in 1996 by Sprinters Books, an imprint of Random House Inc., New York City, NY). It is 1872, and sixteen-year-old Veronica (Sally) Lockhart is caught up in a mystery surrounding the death of her father, Matthew Lockhart, a partner in the shipping firm of Lockhart and Selby, when his ship, the Lavinia, went down in the Far East. Sally, who now lives with her “Aunt Caroline” Rees but moves out and begins work with photographer Frederick Garland, receives several clues involving “the Seven Blessings,” a missing ruby, and sleazy opium dens. Several people seem out to harm and even kill Sally. What happened to the ruby? Can Sally put the clues together to solve the mystery? And will she even survive her investigation?
There is a very interesting story here, but it is marred by several things. Bad language includes using the name of God in vain as an exclamation, quite a bit of cursing (the “h” and “d” words), and some near-vulgar terms (e.g., bitch, bastard). Instances of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol occur. A reference is made to “one class of well-dressed young women who moved in and out of hotels and restaurants” (i.e., prostitutes). But the worst thing is the use of opium. Even Sally goes under its influence once because it seems to help her remember certain events from her infancy that she had forgotten. I would hesitate to recommend to a twelve year old a story that is centered on opium use, although I will admit that, in the end of the book, opium is pictured as something bad.
When I picked up the book on the free table at our library, the description sounded good, and I didn’t pay particular attention to the author’s name, or else I would probably left it alone. Philip Pullman, an atheist, is also the author of “His Dark Materials” series beginning with The Golden Compass, in which I have been told (I have not read them) that he seeks to do for atheism what C. S. Lewis did for Christianity in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The Ruby in the Smoke is Book 1 of 4 in the “Sally Lockhart Mystery” series. Book 2 is The Shadow in the North; Book 3 is The Tiger in the Well; and Book 4 is The Tin Princess. To show Pullman’s world view and what he writes for readers as young as twelve, here is a synopsis of Book 2. “Sally Lockhart realises she loves Frederick Garland almost too late in The Shadow in the North; they consummate their love and conceive their child hours before Frederick is killed in a fire started by associates of Axel Bellmann. Sally mourns the fact she and Fred never had a chance to marry and that their daughter, named Harriet, is illegitimate.” Godly young people don’t need to be reading things like this.