Published in 1985, and set in Victorian times, 1872, this is the first of a quadrilogy, three-quarters of which I enjoyed overall. It's been a long time since I read this though, and I still have to read the last volume in the set!
I have multiple problems with Goodreads (not least of which is that it's owned by the unforgivable Amazon), but one of them is that the blurb for this book begins: "Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty." I don't see what that has to do with anything. If she were sixteen and plain would her story be not worth telling? Are her age and her looks her most important qualities? Goodreads makes me sick at times.
Yes, maybe that blurb was posted by some reviewer, but if Goodreads librarians were not among the most useless people on the planet, they would fix things like this. I'm surprised that Pullman himself hasn't complained about it. I know I would if someone characterized one of my main characters so shallowly. But then he's not listed as a 'Goodreads author' whatever the hell that means, so maybe his voice doesn't count since they don't own him? Or maybe he gives less thought to Goodreads machinations than I do? I dunno.
The Wikipedia entry isn't much better! The entry doesn't talk about beauty, but it's so obsessed with TV and stage adaptations of the book that it completely fails to say a word about the plot! Pathetic. An encyclopedia entry that says not a word about its subject! LOL! That's sadly underperforming for Wikipedia I have to say.
Take it from me that Sally Lockhart's looks are unimportant in this story. It's her character that's the critical quality and she has that in abundance. She's an orphan, her mother some time past, and her father having died in a shipwreck. She's under the care (so-called) of a cold bitch of a woman, but this doesn't hold sway for long.
Sally is called to the shipping office to which her father had ties and she learns of some information there that sets her on a course of conflict with the bad guys, which consist of a mysterious Asian and an evil woman who works for him and who isn't entirely lacking in similarity to Marisa Coulter of the 'His Dark Materials' hexalogy. Sally bests them both and makes a friend of Frederick with whom she has only a short-term relationship, it turns out.
I really liked this story and commend it as a worthy read. I also commend the TV adaptation starring two Doctor Who alumni: a very young Matt Smith and Billie Piper.