What’s it all about?:
Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however,nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.
What did I think?:
This book was my choice for the November read of the Kid-Lit Challenge that I participate in with my sister and firstly, I cannot believe I haven’t read any Philip Pullman before. Having heard a lot about the Dark Materials series, I was eager to include it in the challenge (any excuse for a return to childhood…) and am so glad I did. Our heroine is a young girl called Lyra Belacqua who lives amongst the scholars in Jordan College, but enjoys a happy and free existence amongst the street children of the town who become her playmates. Things become slightly more sinister for Lyra however, when her uncle (Lord Asriel) pays a visit. Lyra hides in a wardrobe and happens to witness one of the scholars attempting to poison him. Then she hears her uncle give a lecture to the scholars which both terrifies and intrigues her. Something about “dust” and the separation of children from their daemon counterparts makes her blood run cold, and starts an exciting and dangerous journey for Lyra and her faithful daemon Pantalaimon which involves kidnapped children, travelling gypsies, armoured polar bears and flying witches.
There are so many different layers to this story that at times it seems hard to keep up and in this way, may not be suitable for very young readers although I wouldn’t like to under-estimate them! One of my favourite parts of the story was the idea of each person having a daemon which is able to shift to differing animals during childhood depending on the situation and the mood the child is experiencing. For example, Lyra’s daemon shifts from a moth or a mouse when he needs to hide or assess a situation, to a bird or a panther for protection. Around the time of puberty, the daemon will choose one form and stick to it for the rest of the child’s life which may be based on the child’s own personality. The daemon is also so intimately connected with the child that they will both feel the other’s pain, or any other emotional sensations. I challenge anyone to read this book and not wonder what their own particular daemon would be? For me, I’m thinking ring-tailed lemur or emperor tamarin monkey but anyway…
As for the characters, I think they’re amongst the most wonderful ever written in literature. A strong statement I know, but I love the gutsy, honest and open Lyra, who is clearly a role model for children everywhere, the evil persuasiveness of Mrs Coulter, the fighting spirit and loyalty of the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison and the vivid imagery behind the author’s animal daemons. The story itself is very convoluted as mentioned before, but filled with excitement and drama that had me racing towards the end and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. I can’t wait now to read the second in the series – The Subtle Knive, and am intrigued to watch the film starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, to see how good a job they made of it.
Please see my sister Chrissi’s fabulous post HERE for her views on this book.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):