Tip o' the hat to both the marvelous Philip Pullman AND to the excellent narrator, Anton Lesser. I was originally given this book when I was in middle school--to young, I think. And today, as an 8th grade teacher, I would hesitate to hand it to any but my high-level students, though I give out copies of "Golden Compass" all the time. The complexity of the story and barrage of colorful characters confuse younger readers. However, the riches the story offers--in character, in intrigue, in exciting Victorianishness--are well worth it. The audio version, complete with Cockney accents and such, is the perfect way to experience it. (Oh, also, AFTER you've listened to the book, enjoy the BBC film adaptations!)
Pullman in dark, playful mood skilfully avoids the predictable in this highly entertaining, no-punches-pulled thriller set in murkiest Victorian London. Anton Lesser's brilliant vocal characterisations evoke a world where the stench of opium dens and East End poverty is matched only by the putrid odour of institutionalised corruption. The Good Guys, led by plucky teenage orphan Sally Lockhart, are charming, brave and kind. The Bad Guys, headed by the stop-at-nothing slum-dwelling Mrs Holland, a truly chilling monster, are jaw-droppingly (and satisfyingly) capital-E Evil. Fu Manchu meets Sherlock Holmes and even Richard Hannay - only with a cast of refreshingly strong female characters - as looming cliches are brilliantly converted into vivid plot-twists. Pullman subtly exposes the vile creatures lurking beneath one of the foundation stones of British imperial power - the officially sanctioned Opium Trade - while keeping us spellbound with a first-rate gem of a tale of villainy eventually overcome by virtue. Why, there are even pirates! Great to know there are two more in the series...
While the story line itself is a good one, I found this audio grating on my nerves as I listened. The sound quality is as if spoken through an old phone and I did not enjoy the narration. I would recommend this in tangible - paperback or hardback or movie form only.
What a fun listen this was. I recommend the whole series. Anton Lesser is a fabulous narrator. He does all of the different characters so convincingly.
although i really loved pullman's 'the golden compass' series, this book failed to entice me. it seemed like the entire 'ruby in the smoke' book was based on the recurring theme that opium was/is bad. it was like he was trying to preach to his readers. i hated it.