The Ruby in the Smoke is a novel by Philip Pullman originally published in 1985 and is the first of four novels featuring Veronica “Sally” Lockhart. No one calls her Veronica. When first we meet Sally we discover several things about her. First she is a naturally curious young lady, second she has been orphaned at the age of 16 her father having died in a shipwreck in the Far East and third she has received a mysterious warning by mail that does not bode well for her.
The death of Sally’s father puts her on a collision course with a destiny that has been stalking her since she was an infant. His death precipitates a series of events which tears away the curtain between Sally and her forgotten past. As with Pullman’s other novels Sally is bravery personified. While Sally is not reckless neither is she particularly cautious about how she conducts herself in the face of threats which are clearly real and present at almost every turn in her life after her father’s death.
The Ruby in the Smoke is ideal reading for a younger reader – twelve to fourteen – but that does not make it exclusive to that age group. Older readers will also enjoy the atmosphere and well paced story. There is almost nothing to dislike about The Ruby in the Smoke though sometimes one is hard pressed to ignore the seemingly cavalier way in which the villains ply their villainy with complete disregard for any possible pursuit by the constabulary. Another slightly annoying feature of the book is the apparent ease with which Sally recruits people to her aid. There is no particular explanation of her charm or strength of personality though some attempt is made to reveal this through her actions in the story but as a whole it requires a little more suspension of disbelief that is normally needed but it is not a complete distraction. As with Pullman’s later work the villains are without redeeming qualities and those on the side of good are without serious flaw and what flaws there are, are put to good use.
On the whole The Ruby in the Smoke is a good read and well worth reading – enough so that I at least am planning to order the remaining three books from Amazon.