A cracking literate yarn sets me thinking

I’ve just finished novel three of Philip Pulman’s Sally Lockhart stories.  Roller-coaster rides, all of them.

the RubyInTheSmokeLovely period detail and a feisty female lead character, who doesn’t wait around to get rescued, or fall into hysterics so that she can show-case other characters.  Okay, so in Edwardian England she’s slightly improbable, but this is a thriller, and that’s the way they work.  Outlandish conspiracies, truly wicked villains and lots of violence are requisites.

This is the sort of stuff I love, and have loved for decades. I think I started with Enid Blyton’s ‘Five’ books.

The only thing I can’t quite decide with the Sally books, is what age-group they’re aimed at.  By which I certainly don’t mean to say it should have a restricted readership, any more than Pulman’s, Dark Materials trilogy should (if you haven’t you should – and you need to read all three to get the full effect).

The ruby -sally-lockhart-mystery-collection-philip-pullman-4-books-[3]-30312-pThe thing is, I keep seeing Sally Lockhart referred to as written for children.  I’m not sure if that’s just because in the first book Sally is sixteen years old.  I’ve seen reviews that compare the books to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, but the only similarity I see is that both series are, to use an old phrase, ‘action-packed’.  So are the James Bond books.  I worked my way through all of them when I was sixteen or seventeen.

I’m not saying that a twelve-year old wouldn’t enjoy the Sally Stories, rather that it seems a shame these books seem to have been marketed as suitable for children.  There are books that are definitely children’s, and that’s how it should be.

Content-wise though, I’m not sure if there’s an issue when it comes to these.  I know that children read adult books, but how much adult content is allowable in stories for children?

While not explicit, in book two, there is a sex-scene.  By book three, Sally is in her early twenties, and thinking as an adult.  Shouldn’t this then come under the Young Adult (YA) category?  I wonder where most bookshops and libraries shelve it.

The%20Ruby%20in%20the%20Smoke%20Jacket%20CoverNow that publicity is such a large part of the writing process, I suppose labels are vital.  And writers shouldn’t complain too loudly, after all, with so many books getting published each one must work hard to sell itself, and on the other side of that argument, it means the odds for any of us to get in print must be improving.

So I also wonder what each of these book covers suggests to you about the content.  Is it the book we judge by the cover, or the person reading it?

4 thoughts on “A cracking literate yarn sets me thinking

  1. Philip Pullman fought against publishers printing an age range on his and anyone else’s books and I wonder how he feels about any of these labels. As for the cover like the top one – spells adult (or anyone) but the lower not only looks as though it is intended for children, but is also poorly executed. A girl in a bonnet AND the same girl with an older woman AND a young girl and man in some kind of tiff with what? a camera and a wall (or is a scarf) AND a unrealistically large ruby. Far, far too busy.


    • I agree. The last cover reminds me of the cheap, and all too often unsatisfying, books I got given as a child.

      Good for Philip Pullman. It must be really frustrating to think that something that would appeal to a lot of adults would only get found if you think to check the children’s section.


  2. Interesting post Cathum. I’ve only come across these as the TV series which most definitely were aimed at an adult audience. Sally herself was an older (twenties?) feisty heroine. Don’t know how close the series was to the books but if you come to the books from the TV series you’d be in for a bit of a shock. Agree the covers are not enticing. Personally I find all three off-putting…the last one in particular.


    • Yes, I saw the Billy Piper version and assumed it was adult, but our library classifies the books as aimed at adolescent readers, and they’re shelved in the children’s section of the local bookshop. I don’t expect librarians or booksellers to read every book, so I wonder if they decided on the basis that Pullman is generally considered a children’s writer…


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