The Ruby in the Smoke

Book: By Philip Pullman

Inciting Event: Before the story starts, Matthew Lockhart’s ship sinks and he drowns. Just before he dies, he has a servant scrawl a note to his daughter Sally, warning her against something called The Seven Blessings. (We later learn that Ah Ling and his minions deliberately sank the ship to camouflage their murder of Lockhart, who had discovered their massive criminal enterprise.)

First Plot Point: Sally leaves the household of her nasty Aunt Rees. She’s now entirely alone, with no home and no money.

First Pinch Point: Mrs. Holland uses her criminal network to find out who murdered her minion Hopkins.

Midpoint: Sally and Fred visit an opium den. Sally accidentally inhales some opium smoke and slides into the nightmare that’s been tormenting her all her life. Only this time, she sees more than she ever has before. She realizes the nightmare involves her father and Colonel Marchbanks. She learns she must have inhaled opium once before in her life, and that the nightmare is a memory and not a dream. The only way to discover its origin and meaning is to smoke opium again–an idea that horrifies her.

Second Pinch Point: Mrs. Holland realizes Sally is connected to Bedwell, and she believes Sally must have the ruby. Enraged, she vows again to find her.

Third Plot Point: Sally resolves to smoke opium again in order to learn the truth about the ruby and what happened to her in her early childhood. This is the only way she will be able to rescue Adelaide and solve the mystery hanging over her.


Faux Climax: Armed with her new self-understanding, Sally faces off with Mrs. Holland on London Bridge. A mysterious cab lurks in the shadows. By threatening to throw the ruby into the river, Sally forces Mrs. Holland to tell her more backstory about the events long ago in India that led to the present mystery. Sally learns the truth about her own birth, her parents, and Marchbanks. She then tosses the ruby into the water. Mrs. Holland goes crazy and jumps over the parapet to her death.

Climax: The mysterious cab comes forward. Ah Ling introduces himself to Sally, and kidnaps her. He is clearly far more dangerous than Mrs. Holland, and we realize he’s been orchestrating all the villainy from the shadows without Sally even knowing he was there. He offers Sally a choice between death and sexual slavery. Sally’s only hope is to maneuver her handbag into a position where she can reach her pistol and shoot Ah Ling.

Climactic Moment: Sally shoots Ah Ling at the last possible second, then springs out of the cab.

Resolution: Sally and her friends are all together again, except for Adelaide who is still missing. We hear details about what’s happened to everyone. Sally’s wonderful new life is threatening to dissolve out from under her, because there isn’t enough money coming in and Fred’s photography business is about to go under. A letter arrives for Sally from her friend the Reverend Bedwell. His brother has just remembered a message that Sally’s father asked him to pass on to her. It’s the location of a hiding place in their old house. Sally goes there and finds £10,000 and a last loving letter from her father. We get his perspective on the events Sally’s investigation has revealed. Sally’s future is now assured.

(Hints of a sequel: Adelaide is still missing and Ah Ling’s body has not been found.)

Comments: The story elements I’ve identified don’t occur at the points where they should (i.e., at 25%, 50%, etc.), so I’m not absolutely sure I’ve done this analysis correctly. The First Plot Point, for instance, comes well after the 25% mark. The midpoint is definitely elusive. Sally makes a vital discovery before the halfway mark: something that will eventually catapult her into the Third Plot Point and give her the key to solving the mystery. But it doesn’t mark a change in her level of assertive action–in fact, Sally’s allies are more active than she is in the second half of the book.

(Submitted by Freya Shipley.)

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