The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman: B

From the back cover:
It’s 1881, and life has been good to Sally Lockhart. Unlike most Victorian women, Sally is completely independent, with her own successful business and a comfortable home for her young daughter, Harriet.

But Sally’s whole world is about to collapse. A stranger emerges, claiming to be both her husband and Harriet’s father and threatening all that she has—her business, her child, her very sanity. Sally realizes with growing horror that there is a guiding hand behind this deceit: someone who hates her so passionately that he has devoted years to bringing about her ruin. And there’s only one man that could possibly be…

No tears this time, but the best ending line ever made me crack up. Pullman has a real knack for unexpected perspectives. In the last book, it was Chaka the dog, and here it was Harriet, Sally’s two-year-old daughter. The (lamentably few) sections from her point of view were among my favorites in the book.

Structurally, The Tiger in the Well was similar to the first book in the series, The Ruby in the Smoke. For quite a while, things didn’t make much sense. There were two different story lines going on and because it wasn’t apparent why I should care about anything not involving Sally, the second story (involving Jews and socialists) was very boring. Pullman did bring everything together eventually, but it took rather too long for my tastes.

Another difference about this book from the others was that Sally largely had to face the peril alone. The threat of losing custody of Harriet drove her out of her comfortable existence and into hiding in parts of London she’d never had cause to visit, caused her to encounter poverty, misery, and exploitation that she’d not previously been exposed to. She also had to care for Harriet on her own and realized how much she was missing by choosing work over Harriet and leaving her in a nurse’s care.

That said, I really missed her friends, especially Jim. Without them, too, Sally wasn’t always as fearless, and sometimes let herself be swept along, as with a patronizing solicitor, longer than usual before finally snapping back to her determined self. These lapses were hard to endure, and sometimes even felt a little out of character.

My last complaint is that the identity of the villain was completely obvious throughout the entire book. Pullman was forced to include a mention of something near the beginning so that readers who started with this book would later understand the significance of the big reveal. To me, that just gave it all away. Also, the reader received several clues that Sally did not, so when she finally put it together, it was not as climactic as it could’ve been.

Even with all of these things to grumble about, I ultimately did still enjoy the story. It got a lot better in the last third or so, once Sally had some allies to help her out and had regained her spirits. The ending hints at her future happiness, as well. Though there is one more book in the series, it does not actually focus on Sally, so it’s nice to have an inkling about how she’ll spend the rest of her life.

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