on 8 November 2001
Northern Lights is an amazing book right down to the snazzy front cover. Philip Pullman is an extremely skilled author and has written this book in such a way that everything is described in great detail and crystal clarity but he still leaves enough out to keep you reading.
This book captivates you and hauls you in to the world of Gyptians, Tartars and shape shifing animals attached to everyone's soul.
I was impressed by his choice of characters and the way he explains their backgrounds, personalties and thier feelings and reactions.
I also liked the way he keeps the story going because you are always meeting a new character or entering a new place.
Something else I was pleased with was the fact that the book doesn't try to dumb itself down for younger or maybe less skilled readers. The friction between the characters and the ever-changing surroundings add to the reading enjoyment and always make you feel that there is something lurking around the next corner (which there very frequently is).
Throughout the story the plot unravels itself into complete disarray then comes together again to make perfect sense.
It is a book that reqires a good imagination and some patience.
This is definitely the best book I have ever read and it took some struggle to pull my mind out of strange world mode and put the book down.
on 14 April 2010
Significantly influenced by a hefty array of "canonical" English Literature (Milton, Marvell, C.S. Lewis, Blake and Byron, among others), this novel is posited in an alternate reality of earth; part Victorian and part steam-punk in its imagery and presentation.
The book casts as its heroine Lyra, a feisty and strong-willed twelve-year-old girl who lives with the scholars of the fictional Jordan College of Oxford University. Her ever-present, shape-shifting companion is Pantalaimon; an anthropomorphised externalisation of her soul. The amazingly strong bond between these two characters is expressed beautifully in Pullman's prose, and is truly unlike any fictional relationship I have ever encountered. The pair journey north through impressively original fantasy landscapes on a quest to reach Lord Asriel, an `experimental theologian' who has some mysterious, inter-dimensional and potentially dangerous research projects to do with the Northern Lights. The characters encountered in this novel are all strikingly memorable, if a tad clichéd in their portrayal; from sky cowboys to talking armoured bears and witches, Pullman draws on the whole fantasy zeitgeist in creating these individuals.
Setting the tone for the later books in the series, this story is deeply concerned with exploring the convergence of ostensibly dichotic ideas and principles: science and religion, youth and adulthood, free will and determinism, body and soul; all clash violently and spectacularly. Don't let the facile label of `children's fiction' put you off, this is as complex or simple a book as you want it to be. The story and characterisation is suitably strong and well-crafted for the casual reader, while the implicit focus on theology, astrophysics, literary suggestion and philosophical dualisms should keep even the busiest mind reeling with questions and after-thoughts.
With a breath-taking ending (an almost literal cliff-hanger), `Northern Lights' marks the start of an epic and complex trilogy of books. Touching, well-written and with a profusely discursive philosophical sub-text, this is an incredibly original work of fantasy with a twist of counter-factual history about it. At times violent and shocking, heart-breaking and funny; `Northern Lights' is a book well worth clearing your diary for.
on 24 November 2003
I first read these books in German, then in English and - as usual - the original version is much better than the translation!
A fascinating story about a girl that has to set out into the wide world and doesn't even know the higher purpose behind it all. All she wants is to save her friend. With her huge heart, her rebellious nature and her cleverness, Lyra is a very lovable protagonist, as is Pantalaimon, her deamon!
The world of this book is very similar to ours and yet so different. For fantasy lovers it is perfect. As is this book as a whole. It is a way of fleeing from your daily routine, an opportunity of exploring exotic places and other worlds, yourself. Lovers of Harry Potter, Lotr, the Narnia Chronicles or Artemis Fowl will embrace this trilogy and read it just as quickly as I did.
Concerning the big question if His Dark Materials is a series of children's books, I would give a "maybe" because the story is simple, children are not stupid, they will understand it. The only thing that I think children would need some education for is the dark material matter. You should know *something* about atoms and materia otherwise you'll be pretty lost - or you'll have to let your imagination make everything up to you.
To sum it up: well educated or in only in elementary school, you will be most likely to love the story of Lyra and the dark and dangerous things going on in her world.
on 4 August 2002
This is the compelling story of a young girl, Lyra Belacqua, and her closest companion, her daemon, who embark on a hero's quest to rescue a friend and discover the world without and within. As with all heroes, her odyssey takes her to strange lands and through many perils. She journeys from the staid halls of academe in Oxford to the glittering frozen tundra of the North Pole. Exotic enemies and allies abound. She fights her way through a maze of mystery and lies, with the device of the title as her guide. This is a fairy tale for adults and children alike, which speaks to the heart on many levels. And as with all fairy tales it prompts us to think about what is truly real. You will not want to put it down once you start and you'll be sorry when it is ended. You'll also want a daemon of your own.
READ: ALL of "His dark materials series" and The Price of Immortality, all AWESOME BOOKS!
Please be aware that this book was previously sold as 'Northern Lights' and is the first book of the trilogy and NOT a new book. I was very excited when I saw this as I had hoped that it was. I would recommend the trilogy to anyone as it has an easy reading style while at the same time appealing to adults. Something that is rare.
on 28 August 2009
Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights begins with our heroine Lyra and her daemon in Jordon Colledge, Oxford. Lyra is soon swept into the mysteries of the North when Ms Coulter, an exquisitely beautiful lady visiting the colledge wants to adopt her...but is Ms Coulter as beautiful on the inside? All the while, Children are being snatched by the mysterious 'Gobblers', and Lyra must do something before it is too late...
Daemons, Dust, Discoveries, Adventures, Witches, Bears, Manipulation, Religions and Friendships will sweep you into this astounding tale and will never let you go!
The book far surpasses the film, and it is with excellent reason that the film was named, The Golden Compass, rather than have the honour of the name, The Northern Lights.
I would recommend this to 8yrs +, boys and girls, adults and elders. I know that other reviews listed here will tell you that it isn't for adults, and to some extent, I can agree with them. However, on one level, this book is a fantastic childrens tale. There are some many more levels-read deeper. Honestly, keep reading this series. After I read the Amber Spyglass, (third book in this series) I have never thought the same way again.
A must read. Astounding.
on 3 August 2007
I thought I would read "His Dark Materials" books before they start churning the movies out, and I have just finished the first installment.
"Northern Lights" is an original, well written and fairly addictive book. It manages to compensate for the obvious limitations by being a children's book by introducing new ideas and the plot is strong and develops well into the climax. As a story, it is much better written than many other children-adult books like Harry Potter.
Criticisms are that this book was slow to begin with, and required a little effort to get into; I nearly put it down in its early pages because it was a bit slow, but once it gets going, it gathers momentum wonderfully.
on 7 April 2000
I hate it when they call a book as good as this a Children's Book.
Pullman has created an utterly convincing world; teasingly familiar yet fantastic. A world which shape shifting daemons, witches and armoured bears inhabit alongside more familiar elements such as electric (or anbaric) lights, dishonest politicians, and a not-quite Oxford.
Where the book does frustrate however, is in its ending. The Northern Lights is (as it never attempts to deny) the first instalment of a trilogy and no attempt at any resolution is made at the end of this episode. The reader is left high and dry. Having said that, the book is marvellous and I suspect that most readers will, like me, immediately rush out and buy the second instalment, The Subtle Knife (Likewise worthy of 4 stars).
In conclusion, if read as part of the trilogy this is a book worthy of a full 5 stars, images and ideas will stay with the reader long after they have finished the book. I would not recommend it however to anyone who has no intention of following it up.
on 7 April 2006
... and then buy the other two books in the trilogy!
I must admit, the first couple of chapters didn't have me hooked straight away. but when I got a bit further, I was unable to put it down!
The main characters are well developed and although the author brings several people into the story, it never gets confusing. There's something for everyone here.
When I reached the end, I realised I shoudl have bought all three books at once - now I had to wait for the next two to arrive before I could find out more abuot the characters!
"His Dark Materials" is one of those works that you know quite a bit about even before you start reading. I'd heard about a girl called Lyra, "daemons", polar bears and parallel worlds. I "knew" that Phillip Pullman is a brilliant writer with a genuinely original imagination. I also "knew" that Pullman is an atheist whose trilogy is vitriolically anti-God/ anti-Christian/ anti-Catholic (tick all that apply).
The preamble to the main adventure is set in other-Oxford and other-London. I found these imaginatively weak. Other worlds should be credible and coherent in terms of their own internal logic: these were not. There was no sense of life going on in the background behind the main characters. Lyra's Oxford, in particular relied heavily on clumsy in-jokes and the transformation of Oxford's Ice Rink into a zeppelin terminal hardly requires a great leap of imagination.
Things move into a different gear once the action moves to The North - a frozen wilderness sparsely populated by warring tribes, clans of witches and talking polar bears. This is Pullman at his creative best; this is a world that the reader can get their imaginative teeth into. There are obvious parallels with other literature - the snowy North has more than a hint of Narnia, whilst the Experimental Station, complete with evil scientists, is straight out of the Cold War (no pun intended).
So is Pullman a great writer? The writing wasn't as good as I'd hoped. I think that Pullman's real skill is in using language to tell a story and, indeed, he claims that he is primarily a storyteller. His much-vaunted imagination frequently consists of collages of borrowed ideas: there's nothing wrong with this - a collage can still be a work art - Tolkien and Rowling do the same. So far, daemons are the only genuinely original idea, although even these might be borrowed from the idea of a witch's "familiar".
Is "Northern Lights" anti-God etc.? Not really. There are some dodgy and sinister organisations vying for power and somewhere in the background is a more important, but ill-defined organisation, called The Church. Pullman is quite clear that he means what he says when he uses words like "Church" and "Magisterium", but having made the Cold War connection I found myself thinking in terms of "Party", "Politburo", "CIA" and "KGB" and as for the alethiometer - do I detect the hand of "Q"?