Billie Piper – having completed her unlikely trajectory from has-been singer to national treasure – first played Sally in The Ruby in the Smoke, adapted from the first of Phillip Pullman's Lockhart yarns. Pullman, who has achieved immense acclaim for his titanic His Dark Materials novels, describes the Sally Lockhart stories as "old-fashioned Victorian blood-and-thunder" – unashamedly OTT with breathless heroes and diabolical villains.
Great Victorian storytellers like H Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle inspired him, and – as if Pullman's novels weren't exhilarating enough – the telly adaptations have been brought to us by the people behind Rome, The Lost World, and Primeval. That's a lot of bang for your buck, and The Shadow in the North does not disappoint.
The story joins Sally six years after the events of The Ruby in the Smoke, in which she investigated the death of her father and became close friends with charming photographer Frederick Garland. Sally and Frederick have a will-they, won't-they relationship, but she doesn't have much time for affairs of the heart in The Shadow in the North – she's busy dealing with Axel Bellman, a super-rich industrialist who has created a terrifying, world-threatening weapon.
Sally becomes embroiled in Bellman's schemes when one of her clients is left penniless after an investment goes wrong. This sets in motion a plot that links a clairvoyant, a magician, and – ultimately – Bellman himself. You could read a nuclear war subtext into the story, or you could just sit back and lap up a good old-fashioned adventure. We recommend the latter. Indiana Jones and James Bond, eat your hearts out.