Monday 21 August 2017

Review: Northern Lights - Philip Pullman

When Lyra's friend Roger disappears, she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him. The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies - and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.

Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her - something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights . . .

His Dark Materials:
Once Upon a Time in the North (Novella)
The Collectors (Short Story)
Northern Lights (Released as The Golden Compass in the US)
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
Lyra's Oxford (Novella)

The Book of Dust:
(Companion series to His Dark Materials)
La Belle Sauvage

Visit Philip Pullman's website for more information

I'm not sure it's possible for me to write an unbiased review of the Northern Lights (probably known as The Golden Compass to my American friends). I have loved this series since about 2000 and still own my original paperbacks that have been read countless times over the years so it's hard to be completely objective about a story that has been a part of your life for such a long time. Anyway, I'll do my best to try and explain why this story has always been one of my favourites but surely the fact that it's still on my shelf after 17 years is enough to hint at how good it is!

When her best friend, Roger, goes missing along with numerous other young children, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon, set out to find them and bring them home. What follows is an epic journey that takes her from her home in Jordan College, Oxford all the way to the frozen wastes of the North. She has help from numerous sources along the way - the gyptians who are also searching for their missing children, the witches of the North and even an armoured bear called Iorek Byrnison - but what she finds when she eventually catches up with the child snatching gobblers is something more horrific than she could ever have dreamed of.

Lyra is a brilliant character, she's fierce, stubborn and a little bit reckless, as an accomplished liar she can be cocky and thinks she knows everything but she's also very intelligent and will quickly learn from the mistakes she makes. I love how feisty she is and the way she jumps straight into the action because she is so determined to save Roger and the other children, she faces things that would terrify even adults and she does it with a great deal of bravery. The bond between her and Pantalaimon is brilliant, he's a bit more sensible than she is and is often the voice of reason when she's about to get herself in trouble, unfortunately for him she doesn't always take his advice but he is always there as her backup when she needs him.

While Lyra's world initially seems very similar to our own it quickly becomes clear that Philip Pullman has used his wonderful imagination to create something very different. Every human is born with their own daemon, a living, breathing entity that is basically the other half of their soul. Daemons can take any form throughout childhood, Pantalaimon often changes shape depending on the situation that Lyra finds herself in, but once puberty is reached it will choose one form to settle as. The bond between human and daemon is unbreakable and killing one will cause the death of the other so there are lots of strict taboos in place about not touching other people's daemons even though you can communicate with them. I love the sheer variety of different daemons found in these books and I've spent the last 17 years waiting for my own daemon to turn up! Unfortunately it's still nowhere to be found but I still live in hope.

Along with daemons this world also contains the panserborne, a race of warrior polar bears who have an affinity to metal and who are known to be brilliant protectors. Lyra is able to make friends with Iorek Byrnison, an exiled panserborne who has been living amongst humans for far too long, and he agrees to help her try to rescue the missing children after she frees him from captivity. Iorek is another brilliant character and a great ally for Lyra as she travels across the frozen wastes of a land similar to the arctic. Although this series has a lot of fun characters it also has some surprisingly dark elements, I'd actually forgotten how upsetting some parts of the story were so be warned it's not for the faint of heart but that darkness doesn't make it any less of a wonderful journey. There are lots of amazing elements to this story and from what I remember the series only gets more fantastical in the next two books.

I started this reread because I want to be ready for the new companion trilogy (the first book La Belle Sauvage will be released in October) and I can't wait to read new stories set in this world but I'm just as excited to continue with the original trilogy and remind myself of the rest of Lyra's adventures. There is a reason that this series holds up so well since it was originally published, it's something special and if you've not already read it you're really missing out.

Source: Purchased

Other Reviews:
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