Sally Lockhart, the super-competent heroine introduced in The Ruby in the Smoke (1987), returns in another neo-Victorian thriller. Six years have passed. At 22, Sally, now a successful financial advisor (ironically presaging the 1980's), is also business manager for Fred Garland's photography shop. When one of Sally's clients is defrauded of her life savings as a result of taking Sally's advice, Sally and Fred become involved in unravelling a mystery that involves a ship lost at sea, a secret marriage, a gallery of characters from various classes, a hint of the occult, and, at the heart of the matter, the evil manufacturer of a diabolical secret weapon so effective that its use is unthinkable. As before, Pullman spins all this into a compelling yarn with its many threads neatly tied, while introducing some serious issues: Sally and Fred are at odds because, fiercely independent, she fears being subject to the property laws that would be invoked by their marriage; the loathsome ""Steam Gun"" (a clever concoction of 19th-century technology, destined for use on the Siberian Railway) is ""a tyrant's weapon, a coward's weapon"" manufactured by reluctant workers with no economic alternative. And though the villain is foiled, there is a stunning plot-reversal rather than a neat, romantic conclusion. Readers should be delighted to know that Pullman plans a third volume about the charming, indomitable Sally.