Thursday 31 May 2012

Guest Post: Susan Wells

A review of Philip Pullman’s A Shadow in the North: A Sally Lockhart Mystery
Let me just start this (positive) review by saying that I’m not usually a big fan of historical mysteries set in the past. I really enjoy young adult fiction of all stripes, but if I had to pick my top five YA genres, the typical mystery story would not be in it. I’m more of a fan of paranormal and high fantasy fare, but I really took a liking to the subject and style of this novel by Philip Pullman.
A Shadow in the North is the second entry in his Sally Lockhart trilogy, set in Victorian England and set around the adventures of Sally Lockhart, a strong willed and clever woman ahead of her time. I just finished this novel and I have to say that it’s my favorite in the series so far (though I hear great things about the third book). As you’ll soon see, A Shadow in the North has much more invention and intrigue than the average stock mystery read.
The plot in brief
 A Shadow in the North begins six years after the events of the first book in the trilogy, A Ruby in the Smoke. You can read the first book if you want, but the storylines in A Shadow in the North are mostly self-contained and don’t require knowing previous events that transpired years earlier. The same main characters are still around: Sally Lockhart (of course) works as a kind of money manager/financial consultant; her beau Fred works as a photographer and runs a discreet detective service with his friend Jim. It transpires that the trio must investigate some bizarre case of insurance fraud and serious financial wrongdoings as one of Sally’s friends, a lady named Miss Walsh, loses a fortune that she invested in a ship after it goes missing. Another seemingly unrelated subplot involves a quirky magician named Alastair MacKinnon who gets Jim in unexpected trouble with his startling visions of a serious crime.
Random events begin to take shape as Sally, Fred, and Jim investigate a number of strange occurrences throughout a well-described Victorian backdrop. The characters in the story are nuanced and complex; there aren’t many black-and-white good or bad players in this book as there was in the previous one. Moral dilemmas that crop up are more muddy and complex, and the suspense is much more addicting in this installment as well. I don’t want to give anything away, so you just have to check out the book yourself to see what happens.
A talented author
Part of the reason why A Shadow in the North works so well is because its written by Philip Pullman, who proved that YA fiction could be just as complicated and compelling as adult fiction with the series His Dark Materials. You’ll find similarly great prose and character development in this book as you did in his other novels like The Golden Compass. I’m glad to have come across this other series written by the English author, as they have proven to be well worth my limited reading time. Definitely check this book out if you get a chance!
Author Bio:
This is a guest post by Susan Wells.

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