Ruby in the Smoke was written first and while it is a good book and shades of Pullman's later characters are evident in the story I would argue that Golden Compass is the better series - he extends his nuances and side plots in intricate detail with The Dark Materials books.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed re-reading Ruby in the Smoke. To be honest, I know I read the book before but I did not remember anything about the story. Written as a young adult book, it does deal with death and violence in a way that would keep me from giving the book to anyone younger than maybe 10. Pullman's plot revolves around an Indian ruby, an orphaned girl, and piracy all located in soot-filled Victorian England: classic Gothic at its finest. One of Pullman's strengths as an author is his ability to create strong relationships between his young characters: Ruby in the Smoke is no exception. Each of the book's main characters is young, unique, independent, and strong. I appreciate his books for the message of independence and strength of character he sends.
I will likely hang on to my copy of Ruby in the Smoke for my boys. However, it is not a story I will read to them in the next couple of years. The themes (as Pullman seems interested in in general) are a bit dark and heavy for a younger child. He acknowledges the dark side of people and is willing to have a character suffer a beating to further the plot. This book does not hold place amongst my favorite books that I will re-read for nostalgia sake. However, it was a good light romp through my literary past.