The Fourth Ruby by James Hannibal: Genghis Khan and teleporting thieves
2nd book in the Section Thirteen series
See also The Lost Property Office, The Clockwork Dragon
Overall rating: 8/10
Quality of writing: 9/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): less
Age level: 10 and up
Following the events of The Lost Property Office, Jack Buckles’ newly discovered tracker abilities (which normally allow him to see the past) are strangely absent, although he is actually training under the auspices of the Ministry of Trackers. As a potentially dangerous “Section 13” tracker, others at the Ministry view him as strange and an outsider; complicating the situation, his father is still comatose after being captured by the malevolent Clockmaker, and a series of valuable rubies (which apparently once belonged to the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan) have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. However, when Jack and his friend Gwen go to investigate the thefts, they stumble across a much larger plot involving elements from betrayals, to teleporting thieves and even the history of Genghis Khan himself.
The Fourth Ruby is an excellent book for fans of action- and mystery-style fiction, and also offers readers a great deal more exposition of Hannibal’s fictional world, especially his imaginative societies existing secretly in the UK. If you enjoyed The Lost Property Office, this book will certainly not disappoint!
The plot of this book incorporates several threads, but the major one is Jack and Gwen’s search for the thief who has been stealing the rubies (and subsequently, their efforts to stop the him from uniting the rubies to achieve world domination). The pace and organization might admittedly be a bit confusing at first (Jack and Gwen don’t know what’s going on either), but as the clues fall into place, the plot becomes more focused and the pace ramps up to a satisfying climactic confrontation with the villain (whose name I won’t reveal, because it’s a bit of a plot twist). Overall, the plot of this book is well put together, especially considering that the initial uncertainty fits in with its mystery-genre elements.(8/10)
The central cast of characters in this book remain the same from The Lost Property Office—Jack as protagonist, aided by Gwen and his sister Sadie—but Hannibal also adds quite a few new faces to the mix. My personal favorite is the thief Raven (who was employed by the villain to steal the rubies using a teleportation device but temporarily swapped sides to help Jack, and who also has a pretty cool accent), but there’s also the Ministry of Trackers warden Ash, the mysterious Professor Edward Tanner, as well as others. Hannibal also develops Jack and Gwen’s relationship nicely throughout this book (albeit at the cost of a few moments of disagreement), and overall I would consider this book’s characters very nicely put together for its age range. (9.5/10)
This book has few notable areas of difficulty beyond the fact that its plot is essentially mystery-based, and therefore readers don’t always have all the information they might want at their disposal. (The protagonists don’t either.) Otherwise, the style is largely readable and clear, and the plot is understandable, earning it a 3/10 difficulty rating.
Quality of writing
Perhaps the greatest strength of James Hannibal’s writing is his ability to depict the fascinating and fantastical world of the imaginative alternate history in which his books are set. Quite “steampunk” in tone, the inventions and organizations which he dreams up provide this series with its unique tone, as well as a satisfyingly consistent backdrop to its events.
Another point worth noting is Hannibal’s witty dialogue between characters—across the entire Section Thirteen trilogy, I rarely felt like the characters’ remarks became boring, and on the contrary, they often proved both funny and engaging. This is an especial virtue for younger readers, who will be drawn even more to keep reading by the amusing but pithy repartee Hannibal writes. (9/10)
With no concerning language and minimal sexual content, The Fourth Ruby is on the whole a very “clean” book. However, a couple points bear noting. First, as in the previous book, Gwen kisses Jack once (nothing major; it’s just a quick peck in the middle of an action scene). Jack’s sister Sadie is also poisoned at one point during the story (by a robotic venomous spider) and becomes ill, but receives an antidote in time and is saved. Finally, the last concerning point is a scene in which two thieves fall into a trap set by the main villain, who has double-crossed them—the trap is essentially a land mine, and only one of them survives. The details aren’t dwelt on in the narrative, but both thieves are characters that the reader has gotten to know, and as I mentioned, one does admittedly die.
Based on this book’s level of concerning content—especially violence, which is slightly more prominent in this book than in the previous one—and its readable style, I recommend it for readers 10 and up. This book contains less miscellaneous historical detail than the previous one (its mystery plot is still historic in basis but doesn’t require the protagonists to do quite so much homework), and readers/parents should also keep in mind the occasional fight scenes and the length (405 pages). Based on these factors, parents and readers should as always exercise their own good judgement in deciding whether or not this book is appropriate for them or their children.