The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
Author: Philip Pullman
Reader: Anton Lesser
Short Review: The slightly-less brilliant sequel to The Ruby in the Smoke, read just as brilliantly by Anton Lesser.
Long Review: In the six intervening years between the first book in the series and this sequel, Sally has opened a financial consultancy business and Jim and Frederick have become private investigators. This books opens as a ship vanishes in the Baltic. Soon after, Sally becomes interested in the ship’s destruction when she learns that one of her clients lost a great deal of money she had invested in the shipping company whose ship went down. Sally begins investigating the shipping company in the hopes of returning her client’s money to her, while Jim and Frederick are asked to provide protection to a magician who claims to have knowledge of a murder. All hell breaks loose, of course.
I enjoyed this book, but I also saw some weaknesses in it. There are a couple of plot points that are a bit hard to swallow, but I don’t tend to focus much on that as long as they don’t apply to something I study personally. More importantly, Pullman definitely brings a political mindset to his work, and I can see how someone whose political views differed from the author’s would find that annoying. In the first novel of the series, Pullman criticizes colonialism, the opium wars and trade, and Victorian limits on women’s rights. I doubt many readers see his platforms as controversial. In this book, however, Pullman is examining the excesses of corporations and the growth of the military-industrial complex. I don’t find fault with his criticisms, but I’m much farther to the left than most Americans, so I also don’t see myself as representative on this subject.
The book also begins exploring Victorian sexual mores and it has a number of violent scenes. I’ve read a number of criticisms of this book based on the fact that a “young adult” novel depicts sexual relationships and/or violence. Here, I think the problem is really how publishers classify novels, not the content itself. Sally was 16 in the first book. She is 22 in this sequel, and no longer a minor by today’s definition. But some parents really don’t want their kids reading books that contain sex or violence, so they should how mature their young readers are before handing this audiobook over. I think that audiobooks can make certain things, including sex and violence, seem more intense than they would seem on the printed page. Lesser’s astounding skill as a reader intensifies such material even further, so the violence seems sharper and the sexiness sexier. I was fine with it, but I’m and adult and my Mom hasn’t monitored my choice in books since I was 10.