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on 27 August 2003
There are two major results in modern Cosmology: First, we can only observe about 90% of the Universe. The rest is dark matter, still unaccounted for. Second, theories predict that, just as our Solar System is not the only in our Galaxy, and our Galaxy is not the only one in the Universe, there can also be other Universes, inaccessible to us. Philip Pullman uses these results as the basis for his Trilogy “His Dark Materials”. Starting in a parallel World, or Universe, in a parallel Oxford, Lyra Belaqua, an 11 year old girl gets into fantastic adventures. These are related to the existence of a certain Dust, which is dark matter, which no one can see, except under very special circumstances. The “Church” of her world keeps the existence of Dust secret, and those who talk about it are considered heretics. This is the basis for a struggle, which deals not so much with good vs. evil, as in usual children’s stories, but with wisdom and consciousness vs. ignorance and stupidity. The plot thickens throughout the three books, introducing a major character in the second book; Will Parry, slightly older than Lyra, who comes from our own world, and who will team up with Lyra in her future adventures, both of them looking for persons they have lost, and which they care about dearly. Along the story, several interesting characters are introduced; inhabitants from several different worlds. Some of them familiar in Western mythology, such as angels, witches and spectres, as well as new ones which come out of Pulman’s imagination. In his plot, he dares to explore daring ideas about organised religion, particularly Christianism and Catholisism, that he extends to question the very existence of God, and that religious people will find outright heretical. Specially the ending of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is to be replaced by the Republic of Heaven. However, organised religion should think twice before condemning the trilogy to bonfire, since that is precisely the kind of attitude which has lead Pullman to make his denunciation in the first place. A more rational approach to the story should be advised. Along each of the three books, we are introduced to three mysterious devices: a compass which can tell the truth, a knife so strong than can cut almost anything, including windows into different worlds, and a spyglass which humans can use to observe Dust. The story leaves compelling cliff hangers at the end of the first and second books, and becomes more interesting as it advances. I personally found the third book the best by all means. Its ending is absolutely heartbreaking, and it can take days to reflect on it and assimilate it. Although the reader is left with the feeling that a sequel is needed in order to fix things up, she (he) eventually realises that it is the best possible ending. Although profoundly sad and traumatic, it leaves an open window to optimism.
Overall, Pullman shows great artistry in the command of the English Language, which by itself makes the Trilogy captivating. At some points, we are left with the impression that more work should have been devoted by the author, in the development of some of the episodes. Although it is clear that it is a fantasy story, there is a minimum credibility to be expected from fantasy. Also, there are a few loose ends, which could have been easily mended by the author, with minor changes in some of the dialogues. Still, the story is extremely good, and the trilogy highly recommendable.
A final word of caution should be cast: Although His Dark Materials has been classified as a children’s book, it requires a minimum maturity to understand some of the issues it deals with, so “parental guidance” is strongly recommended. Furthermore, religious families may feel offended by some of the concepts, which as I mentioned earlier, are outright heretical on the face of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. However, open minded religious people will recognise that many of the main ideas fostered by Pullman are in line with religious values, except, of course, his doubt on the existence of God. In any case, it is just a story, not a manifesto. On the other hand, by the end, the reader is left with the idea that what Pullman actually did is to rediscover the existence of God in the omnipresent Dust, although he will probably not recognise it.
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on 9 September 2006
The beginning of book one really threw me. "Lyra and her daemon walking around Oxford ...." Huh, what!? I had no idea what on earth was going on (yes i know, i'm a bit slow) and i nearly gave up on it. Well all i can say is thank heavens i didn't! Book one was a brilliant read once i got my head around what was going on. Although i didn't particularly warm to the characters (apart from Lyras Daemon) the story was rivetting.

Then it just gets better, book two is fantastic with the introduction of Will (here we finally start warming to the characters) and as for book three, it's the most mind blowing thing i've ever read (how can one man have so much imagination?) and undoubtedly the best of the trilogy.

Some have said this book is similar to JK Rowling and Tolkien - personally i think it's nothing like them - it's certainly as brilliant as them but i don't see any other connection.

Northern Lights i'd give 4 stars because although i loved it, i wish he'd explained what was going on a bit sooner and i think the confusing beginning may put some people off which would be a shame - but the other two would get 5 stars simply because they're among the most original and entertaining books i have ever read. The various worlds and locations were brilliantly done - he doesn't bore you with pointless details but does manage to paint an incredible image in your mind. The scenes involving the land of the dead were truly spine chilling (a bit like Sabriel ... and then some).

I can't recommend these books enough.
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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2008
Philip Pullman's trilogy is a spectacular achievement, and you only have to look at the hundreds of reviews around the Internet to get a flavour of the positive feeling towards these stories. From my point of view, they are probably the best stories I have ever read, and fill your mind with the most amazing pictures, the most intense emotions and the most spectacular twists and turns you are ever likely to come across.

This edition is a three-in-one hard back, which could easily sit on your shelf alongside Lord of the Rings. It's a re-issue of the edition I own (which has a black cover, not the blue one shown in this picture), and I must admit that my romanticism leaves me really liking big, hard back books. This volume wouldn't be out of place on a story-teller's knee in front of a fire, and is a lovely way of giving someone these wonderful stories.

Also, it puts the books together as one story which, in all honesty, is what they are. One long, brilliant story.
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on 9 January 2008
I received the book as a Christmas gift and was extremely eager to read it, after reading part of it (first book) a few years ago. I wasn't a big fan of Pullman's, not allways. But I can guarantee you, if you like a Good fantasy book and a well-written fiction about the chaotical place we call home , then you will enjoy this book. From funnily outrageous takes on spiritual beliefs, to adventure, romance and tales of betrayal and redemption, Pullman's book manages to hold you hooked from first to last chapter. It follows the narrative of a young girl and takes us into her world , with her (and other children)'s input on how they view the adult's world. The acts of bravery , or stupidity and all the end result are part of the charm this masterpiece holds. The fact that is written in a "easy ride" - read- style makes me add the 5th star , with the note that I would have given the trilogy 4 stars because of the third and final book, where I felt the naration snagged a little , in certain places. Still, very inventive and masterfully rounded, this 3 books are well worth a read for young and old alike.And there lays the mastery: Pullman brings us all in toghether and hold us captive to the narration. From my family, the readers and appreciators range from 14 to 72. That is an achievement in itself!
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2002
In Philip Pullman's epic His Dark Materials trilogy, the author presents us with alternate worlds, strange characters, corrupt theology, and theoretical physics, all woven together into a gripping whole.
For those readers who have completed the Harry Potter books, and are looking for something of the same kind (as I was when I began reading this trilogy), I'd advise you to drop any pre-conceived notions about how 'young adult' fiction is written - these books have bite. Main characters are subject to questionable morals, the plots are trully labrynthine, the whole Christian notion of the nature of the Universe is picked apart almost in disgust, and characters that you find yourself caring about do die.
To compare this trilogy to Harry Potter (which I enjoyed) is to compare wine to fruit juice.
As the author himself admits, the three books are really all one book, in much the same way as The Lord Of The Rings. I defy anyone to read the first story and not want to immediately start on the second, then the third.
The tale focuses on a girl called Lyra, raised as an orphan, but with a great destiny. Her adventures begin with a struggle against the all-powerful Christian church in her world, which is parallel to our own, but with many subtle differences.
This struggle leads to a greater one, and a greater one, until her final destiny is revealed - one that has implications for all the parallel worlds in the Universe.
Bringing together cosmology, physics, and christian theology, the trilogy presents a unified theory of the Universe, one in which even God himself may not be everything he seems (please be aware from the outset that Christians may find many of the aspects of this Universal theory uncomfortable, but also remember, it's only a story).
Even on a scale as grand as this, you can't help being drawn into the minutae of Lyra's world, her struggles, her emotions, and the realities of her burgeoning adolesence.
Be prepared for an emotional involvement in this trilogy. Whether you agree with it's somewhat grey-area moral stance, you won't fail to be impressed by it.
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on 16 May 2006
At the moment I feel slightly reflective and a little sad.. I have just finished reading Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and, to be honest, I'm at a loss as to what to read or even do next! It's an incredible journey. It's a story about honour, growing up, true love, religion, hatred, travel, friendship, physics, death, beauty.. fucking everything!! Phillip Pullman seems to have left nothing out and lets us feed on his (quite frankly) frighteningly inventive imagination! He has succeeded in sending me (and I'm sure many others) through every possible human emotion, making you love his characters, fear for them, hate some of them and hope that the good ones will overcome all evil with the power of their love in the end.. which I'm not going to ruin no matter how sweet I think it is! (at times I cried like a baby, that's how much he makes you love the characters, especially Will and Lyra)

The settings leave you breathless as well. Every detail in the story is lovingly constructed into one epic whole.

If you don't read these books, you are missing out on a huge emotional chunk of brilliance in your lives (if you have a heart, that is, as the last reviewer said!)

Sod this world, I want to live in Lyra's Oxford... and I don't care how sad that sounds.. if you have read and enjoyed these books, you'll understand! ;)

'Northern Lights', 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass' should be read by people of all ages and sexes, they are unconditionally UNIVERSAL.

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VINE VOICEon 18 January 2008
Enough has been said about how wonderful these books are. In my opinion they are the most brilliant and life-affirming books I have ever read. The important thing about this product, though, is it is the best gift-set I could find of the books.

It's three paperbacks, with the best covers available, in a box. If you want to give His Dark Materials as a gift, then for me it's either this, or the all-in-one hard back.
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on 18 November 2001
I don't have Pullman's way with words, so I can't express how good this trilogy is. I can't describe how intricately it's plotted, how widely it's imagined or how deeply it's felt. I can't conjure the dazzling array of characters that Pullman has created - all of them complex, all of them with their flaws and their contradictions - nor can I convey how intelligent this story is, or how truthful, how moving.
But it is all these things and more.
If you want to read something that will change the way you look at the world, that will move you to laughter and to tears, and that will keep you awake long into the night shaking with wonder and with fear, then read this book.
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on 25 January 2006
I picked up this trilogy because it featured in The Big Read (the BBC book push) and I was intrigued. I have to admit that I don't really like fantasy (I found - gasp! - Lord of The Rings tiresome) and found the Harry Potter books a little too simplistic for me and felt that they really were children's literature. His Dark Materials are, however, in a different league. I have recommended and lent these books to so many people that I feel a bit like a literary crack dealer, but I have known no one who has not been utterly spellbound by them: reading them on the loo, walking down the street reading them and reading them until four in the morning.
Northern Lights
In some ways confusing as you spend a lot of time head scratching wondering what an earth is going on? What are Daemons? What is Dust? It is an introduction, really, to a huge cast of characters and a different, alternate world.
The Subtle Knife
Another world and more characters and I felt a bridge between Northern Lights and...
The Amber Spyglass
The best in the trilogy and a panovision, wide-screen, Technicolor experience detailing a lot of concepts, worlds, creatures, characters - where to start?
I thought that His Dark Materials was one of the best books I have ever read and have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone.
My only criticism is that the cover artwork on the originals is sourced 20th century painting - ranging from realism to surrealism - and they were marvelous covers. Now some schmuck in the publishing house has commissioned a bunch of airbrushed 'fantasy' coves that are simply awful and really do not convey what is contained within which I thought the old covers did wonderfully.
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on 16 April 2008
His Dark Materials is a fantastic series of books. Plenty has already been said in these reviews about the subject matter and writing brilliance. However many people have referred to these as "children's" books, which I slightly disagree with. Young children (8+) will enjoy these if they are read to them - although the subject and language is likely to require further explanation at this age. For sole readers an age of 12+ is more suitable; plus many, many adults (including myself) have enjoyed reading these too.

From my personal experience I didn't enjoy the second book in the series as much as either the first or third as I felt it wasn't as fast-paced and intricate. That said I do not mean that I `didn't enjoy it at all' just that I `preferred' the others.

Other reviews have mentioned that the religious/church bashing may offend, which is perhaps true for deeply/strictly religious folk. However for non-believers I think the books may have the opposite effect, i.e. it may open their minds to the possibility there may be more to life than what we see, in a kind of spiritual sense.

However, a word of warning. After reading this series I purchased Lyra's Oxford which was a big mistake. It adds nothing to this story and took no longer than 15 minutes to read. In fact it left me rather miffed with the author that my feel-good factor from reading the trilogy was then tainted by feeling I'd been ripped off with LO.

In short - the trilogy is a very good buy but give the subsequent books based on this same story a big miss.
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