Two men fighting on a shipping dock.

About the Book

Title: The Ruby In the Smoke (Sally Lockhart #1)
Published: 1985
Series: Sally Lockhart
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

BFF Charm: Platinum
Talky Talk: Prosetastic
Bonus Factors: Feminism, Dickens
Relationship Status: Goin’ To the Chapel

** So I wanted to review all three books here, but it would have been too spoilerific to even begin to discuss Book Three’s plot, so just trust me when I say they get swoonier and heartbreakier and more intense as they go. The baddest of the bad guys, the hotter the romance, the more nefarious the plots — industrial espionage, kidnapping, early socialist activism, evil from beyond the grave (or is it?). The last book’s my favorite, but I want to be in a polygamous marriage with all three of them. **

The Deal:

Sally Lockhart’s father just died, and she receives a strange note telling her to “beware the seven blessings.” Before she knows it, the unconventional 16-year-old is in the middle of two mysteries — and at least two people want her dead. One involves a ruby with a curse, and the other her father’s shipping firm.

BFF Charm: Platinum

BFF platinum charm

Sally is one of my ALL TIME favorite heroines. Ever. Of any genre. She’s smart — good with numbers and business — but totally out of her depth in regular Victorian society. She can handle a gun like Annie Oakley and is better at playing the stock market than anyone currently on Wall Street, but she has no idea how to serve tea or embroider handkerchiefs (and no desire to, either). She awesomely doesn’t worry about it, and goes around breaking whatever rules she needs to, damn the consequences and society, but she has a vulnerability about her because of her total cluelessness with cute boys who obviously think she’s cute, too. I also want to give a bff charm to the entire supporting cast, from errand boy Jim, who’s just one step above street urchin and has an addiction to sensational penny dreadfuls, to the feisty Rosa, an actress whose brother fred runs a photography studio.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

The friendship between Sally and Fred is charming, frustrating and exciting. Sally’s naivete is (thankfully) not cloying but almost embarrassing as she struggles to navigate London society, and her ignorance doesn’t stop at her interactions with boys. With a kid like Jim, she can be as frank and open as anyone, but with Fred she alternates between tongue-tied and painfully gauche — especially the more interest Fred seems to show. I love Fred. He’s easygoing and funny, but has a stubborn, fiery streak that comes out in his fights with his sister Rosa (and later with Sally) — a personality that promises to be more than fun behind closed doors.

Talky Talk: Prosetastic

If you’ve read the Dark Materials series, you know Philip Pullman writes brilliant, concise prose (and can set up major heartbreak — Will! Lyra! ILU!), and with Sally he doesn’t disappoint. Nothing’s flowery or excessive — each word has a purpose and sets a grim atmosphere that rivals Dickens:

His knock brought a child to the door — a girl whose only feature seemed to be, on that dingy afternoon, a pair of enormous, dark eyes. … Presently there shuffled in, preceded by the smell of boiled cabbage and old cat, the owner of the house.

Bonus Factor: Feminism

Raised fists in different skin tones wearing nail polish

My favorite bonus factor! Y’all, I wish Sally was my great-great-great grandmother (but, like, also magically my age at the same time) because she’s SO awesomely tough and independent. She even makes being an accountant seem exciting and revolutionary. Also cool: even the dudes in the book are feminists. V. sexy.

Bonus Factor: Dickens

Portrait of author Charles Dickens

Not Dickens as in, “Jeezy creasy, this book is 278177381209 pages long!” but Dickens as in dark, broody Victorian atmosphere with gaslights illuminating dastardly figures looming in the fog. Dickens as in poor street urchin gangs making a living killing rats in derelict warehouses. Dickens as in cursed Indian rubies (ok, that’s Wilkie Collins, not Dickens) and opium dens. You can smell the open sewage on the thames and feel the damp of the fog.

Relationship Status: Goin’ To the Chapel

I love this series SO MUCH. I don’t buy many books — I’d be broke if I did — and get most from the library. But as soon as I returned this series to the library, I knew I needed to own it forever and ever so I can read it anytime I want. Even if you’re not into historical fiction (and I’ll confess it’s one of my dealMAKERS, not breakers), give it a try — I don’t think Sally’d be into historical fiction, either. And she’d probably throw Marianne Dashwood off a cliff, or shoot her and Willoughby (yes, I know that’s not historical fiction, but yannowhatimsayin’).

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my own money. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). The Ruby In the Smoke is available now.

Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.