The Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman

The Ruby in the Smoke

This book has been sat on my shelf for months, maybe years, I can’t remember. I bought it and then promptly forgot about it until a friend borrowed it. How I could forget to read this, I have no idea. It was perfect.

There seems to be a theme starting with this blog already… Strong, independent Victorian women. I’m not complaining, sounds like a brilliant theme to me.

(Okay, okay, Sally Lockhart is not always completely independent and sometimes she is emotional, but this adds to her character and makes you love her even more).

The Ruby in the Smoke was published in 1988 and set in Victorian London, 1872.


Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty. Her knowledge of English literature, French, history, art and music is non-existent, but she has a thorough grounding in military tactics, can run a business, ride like a Cossack and shoot straight with a pistol.
When her dear father is drowned in suspicious circumstances in the South China Sea, Sally is left to fend for herself, an orphan and alone in the smoky fog of Victorian London. Though she doesn’t know it, Sally is already in terrible danger. Soon the mystery and the danger will deepen – and at the rotten heart of it all lies the deadly secret of the ruby in the smoke.


The opening line of the book’s blurb is:

If you haven’t met Sally Lockhart before, prepare to be bowled over. 

I don’t even know where to begin with how true this statement is.

Sally has a gun, that she is competent in using, she is good with numbers, she is intelligent, modest, business-minded, and just an all round great character. She is the opposite of the timid sixteen year old Victorian girl you would expect, not dissimilar to Margaret Hale, (see this post) she defies gender conventions.

The characterisation in this book is just bloody brilliant.

Along with Sally, my favourite is Mrs Holland. She is pure evil, but not just evil for evils sake, her backstory is unexpected and utterly compelling. She is a fantastically memorable villain.

The rest of the characters were equally as brilliant, each plays a part in solving the mystery, and each has their own little quirks that I loved.

Pullman’s writing style made for an easy read, with some really great Victorian-esque metaphors thrown in.

I loved Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and went into The Ruby in the Smoke with high expectations. I was not disappointed. If you love anything to do with the Victorians, stories that keep you guessing, and unlikely female heroines like me, then you are in for a treat! I cannot wait to read the rest of series, reviews will follow!




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