Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

11 Dec


Pullman, Philip. Ruby in the Smoke. Knopf, 1985. 230 pages. ISBN 978-0-329-79003-5

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Sally Lockhart is an orphan and all alone. Her father just went down with a ship in the South China Sea under suspicious circumstances. She is currently living with her aunt. Sally is a very educated girl and is often told that she is very unladylike because she is good with numbers and can shoot a pistol. Sally starts to investigate her father’s drowning after receiving a note in the mail that contains questionable information and the name Marchbanks. This leads her to her father’s partner so that she can ask him about the note, but he is not there, instead she runs into his secretary, Mr. Higgs, who she asks about the note, but he has a heart attack and dies. Since she is a witness to his death, she must go in for questioning and runs into a porter, Jim Taylor, who actually helps her out, by pointing out where she can find Marchbanks. Now Sally is getting closer to solving the mystery of what happened to her father.

Critical Evaluation:

Philip Pullman is best known for his works The Northern Lights trilogy, or The Golden Compass. Ruby in the Smoke is one of Pullman’s earlier works and is the first book of the Sally Lockhart quartet. This book is a mystery novel as well as a historical fiction that takes place in the late nineteenth century. Sally is a bold woman for her time and is given a lot of strife for it often being told she is much too unladylike, but she carries on anyhow. She is great with numbers and can shoot a pistol, two things a woman should not be capable of in the late nineteenth century when women were more oppressed. We get to learn a few great things about the nineteenth century that you may not have known before, as well as, try to solve a mystery with the intrepid Sally Lockhart. Sally meets a handful of ragtag characters who don’t quite fit into the timeline they are supposed to be, and it make the story all that more entertaining to read. Pullman’s writing is intelligent and will grab your attention.

Reader’s Annotation:

‘Have you ever heard of something called the Seven Blessings?’ Now why would this question cause a man to die of shock?


He was born in Norwich in 1946, and educated in England, Zimbabwe, and Australia, before his family settled in North Wales. He received his secondary education at Ysgol Ardudwy, Harlech, and then he went to Exeter College, Oxford, to read English. He found his way into the teaching profession at the age of 25, and taught at various Oxford Middle Schools before moving to Westminster College in 1986, where he spent eight years involved in teaching students on the B.Ed. course. He maintained a passionate interest in education.

He has published nearly twenty books, mostly children’s books. His first children’s book was Count Karlstein. Followed by The Ruby in the Smoke, the first in a quartet of books featuring Sally Lockhart. He did a great deal of research for the background of these stories. He has also written a number of shorter stories. They include The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, I Was a Rat!, and Clockwork, or All Wound Up. However, his most known work is the trilogy His Dark Materials, including Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. These books have been honored by several awards, including the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Book Award, and (for The Amber Spyglass) the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, which was the first time in the history of that prize that it was given to a children’s book.


Mystery/Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties:


Booktalking Ideas:

Sally Lockhart is as unladylike as they get for a gal of the late nineteenth century.

Reading Level/Interest Level:


Challenge Issues:


Why I included this book:

I really like Philip Pullman and was going to use the Golden Compass, but used it for another class blog, so I decide a good mystery would be great.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in LIBR 265-10 Database Project/Blog


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