Now that Philip Pullman's work is available in several audio versions, you may be wondering what makes each one distinctive, and, considering the large differences in price, which one to chose. This version is a complete and unabridged reading, the author himself is the narrator, but there is also a full cast to give voice to each character.
The plot: briefly, as this title has been thoroughly reviewed in its book form only a few mouse-clicks from where you are now:
In a parallel world to our own, feisty 12-year-old Lyra and her daemon live in a recognisable-yet-different Oxford, where they eavesdrop on a secret meeting of scholars and their charismatic visitor Lord Asriel. She hears mysterious tales of Dust, a city that hangs in the air above the Aurora Borealis, and an expedition that ended in a gruesome murder. Lyra's friend Roger disappears, stolen like many other children by the Gobblers, and then she herself is taken from Oxford to live with the sinister Mrs Coulter. Rescued by gyptians she learns who her true parents are, and that the stories and disappearance of her friend are connected. Travelling with the gyptians to the frozen North, Lyra is drawn into a savage struggle among the armoured bears and witch-clans of the Arctic. At the experimental research station of Bolvangar Lyra finds the lost children, where horrific experiments are being performed upon them. To fulfil a prophecy, Lyra's journey leads her to the ice-forts of Svalbard, the rescue of her father and eventually to the city behind the Northern Lights, but only after she has made a terrible betrayal.
What does this dramatised reading bring to the story? Philip Pullman narrates his own work well. Many of the actors are recognisable from BBC Radio 4 dramas - Sean Barrett (as Lord Asriel & Iorek Byrnison); Garrick Hagon (as Lee Scorseby); Stephen Thorne (as the Master of Jordan College & Farder Coram). Mrs Coulter is voiced by Alison Dowling, best known for playing Radio 4's Elizabeth Archer for many years! She is a revelation here; giving real ice and menace to the part. You almost want to boo and hiss when you hear her incisive, cut-glass accent. If you're not a Radio 4 listener and don't know what I'm talking about: don't worry, these are masters of the medium, with rich, expressive voices that bring the text to life. Even where one actor voices two characters you would *never notice*! As Lyra, Joanna Wyatt's Oxfordshire accent wobbles considerably over time, but this is only a small criticism.
On a technical point, the 9 CDs are badly indexed - the 5 minute intervals are inaudible but don't necessarily coincide with chapter starts, making it hard to find your place after a break. Unforgivably, there is a change from one CD to the next right in the *middle* of the climactic armoured bear fight.
If you aren't inclined to read the book, but don't want to miss out on the full text, this is a fine substitute, although the poor arrangement onto CD may well be irritating.