Monday, August 06, 2007

Last night I finished The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman, the second of three books he has written about Sally Lockhart, plucky Victorian heroine. I wrote about the first book, The Ruby in the Smoke, here.

In the first book, Sally was trying to find out what had happened to her father and stumbled into some friendships and a mystery involving opium and a jewel from the Far East. In this book, she is established as a financial consultant and gets drawn into another mystery when one of her clients loses all her money in a suspicious failure of a shipping line.

Those descriptions sound like something out of Nancy Drew but the Sally Lockhart books are a lot deeper, and darker, than that. Pullman uses a fairly accurate Victorian setting and he doesn't shy away from the poorer parts of that society. With that comes the real chance of death by misadventure or, possibly worse to some of the characters, being shamed in public.

I'm enjoying these books more than I enjoyed Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I enjoyed those books but they didn't grab me the way these ones are - if I can find the time I will probably go back and re-read that trilogy, maybe around when the movie for the first book, The Golden Compass, comes out.

Since I also recently read the last Harry Potter book, it is interesting comparing him to J.K. Rowling. Pullman is clearly the better writer - there is really no comparison between the writing in any of the His Dark Materials books and any of the Harry Potter books. Rowling's writing often seems very simple and un-evocative in comparison. On the other hand, I found the Harry Potter books much more compelling and engaging than His Dark Materials. When I re-read them, I will have to do some more thinking to see where that is coming from - does Rowling simply create more interesting characters and situations or is something else going on?

Amazon Link:The Shadow in the North

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