Saturday, July 31, 2010

Three More Reviews: Philip Pullman

Shadow in the North, Tiger in the Well, The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman

Shadow in the North

Brief summary: We catch up with Sally Lockhart as she loses a client’s fortune in a bad financial deal. Sally seeks to understand the cause of the company’s demise: the mysterious sinking of a ship in the North Sea. She soon enters a complicated world of charlatans, forced marriages, businessmen, and parliamentary corruption--- with only her band of ragtag friends to help her out.

Pullman is a skillful weaver of mysteries. I’ve said it before—there is nothing worse than a mystery that feels thrown together at the end. Pullman lays the groundwork quite well, feeding out just a bit of the story to you, a few hints here, a clue there, until leading you to the inevitable final showdown between our heroine and the culprit. The characters are delightful, with many a quirky personality. The writing is good and the mystery is convoluted enough to make it a good ride, but not so overdone that it feels preposterous. I liked this, though not quite as much as the Ruby in the Smoke—though still a good read.

Tiger in the Well

Synopsis: A few years after the events of SITN, Sally Lockhart is a single mother, living in the country and continuing on in her financial consultancy business. She remains the headstrong, independent and charming lady from the earlier books. Her usual friends are still in the picture, but all happen to be on an extended trip to South America. Naturally, this is the perfect time for an unknown enemy to strike. Sally receives legal papers stating that her husband (she has never been married), is suing her for divorce and the custody of their child.

This plot is really a doozy. This tale had me so out of sorts—so WORRIED, so STRESSED about what might happen next. Remember she lives in Victorian England—where her rights are practically nil. This enemy has done the legwork, over years, to establish a paper trail showing that she was married—and absolutely nobody believes her when she says otherwise. This book filled me with dread, and the fear that this unknown but clearly powerful enemy would win out—and take Sally’s daughter. It was incredibly suspenseful and well-written, including some surprising twists and turns that took the story places I was not anticipating. I really enjoyed it.

The Tin Princess, featuring characters from the Sally Lockhart mysteries.

Sally makes a brief appearance in this book—but it is for the most part about Adelaide, the waif from book one (Ruby in the Smoke) who worked for the fantastically awful Mrs. Holland. Adelaide disappeared at the end of book one, (everybody thought she was dead) only to reappear here—which must be about a decade later. Funnily enough she fell into work as a prostitute, but that didn’t keep her from meeting and marrying the prince of a tiny country nestled between Germany and Austria. Now she’s winning over the people Lady Diana style, with an accent rivaling that of Eliza Doolittle. Add mystery, shake, and then pour over the snow-capped mountains of Razkavia.

Sounds crazy, no? But really, he pulls it off. I swear he does. Only Philip Pullman could suspend my disbelief in this way. I thought this book was every bit as good as my favorite in the series (Ruby in the Smoke). I would say it ties for first. Perhaps because it follows Jim (as well as Adelaide) and he is hands down my favorite from the series. After reading them Mike pulled up the movies in our Netflix queue, and I was happy to see that Matt Smith (new Dr Who) plays Jim in the BBC films. Fitting, especially considering Sally is played by Billie Piper.

This book is quite different from the other Sally mysteries. The mystery is still the thing, but with a heavy dose of political economy and international intrigue. I loved it. It was satisfying, well-written, and an adventurous read.

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