First things first, let's get the rating out of the way. I give this book four stars simply because it isn't long enough. And I was a little disappointed when I'd finished it because I just didn't want it to stop. Perhaps that's a sign of how good the book actually is.
But to take off that star, one has to consider the reasons why it deserved the full five in the first place. The title should give things away just a little; this is essentially a western short story. And a rollicking good one too, because this is the tale of how Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and the bear Iorek Byrnison first met. The events take place a full thirty-five years before the climax of His Dark Materials Boxed set (His Dark Materials), when Lee is but a young man of 24 and newly introduced to the balloon he has recently won in a poker game. As a result his flying is best described as inexpert.
So it is that Lee (and his daemon Hester) arrive in the town of Novy Odense and become involved in a stand-off between a put-upon sailor named van Berda and the power of corporate privilege. After meeting a shady figure from his past, Lee decides he must choose a side, which is how he comes across Iorek.
As you'd expect from something written by Pullman, the story reads with an effortless grace and is beautifully and finely observed and constructed. The extras, like Lyra's Oxford before it are in turn intriguing and useful, including documents and artefacts connected to the narrative itself, as well as a board game, 'Peril At The Pole'.
The last couple of pages are especially curious and relate to Lyra and her correspondence with a minor character from book one.
As with Lyra's Oxford, the slight disappointment is that there isn't more to read but it seems as if, for the moment, this is the way Pullman will realise this world: in fits and starts, and I suppose this is better by far than nothing at all.
An essential purchase for fans of His Dark Materials.
Let's get this straight. The His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the best things in literature and wipes the floor with Harry Potter (much as I enjoy them). This is the second in a series of spin off books which are short stories using the original characters. The first, Lyra's Oxford deals with the heroine, Lyra Silvertongue. The second, this book, deals with a prequel in which we find out how the aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the bear king, Iorek Byrnison first meet each other.
The writing is crisp, dark and funny/sad, just as in the original books and the woodcuts, the game and all the additional letters etc, make this cloth bound, pocket sized book a thing of great beauty and a needful addition to any bookshelf. The characterisation is excellent, and these are two of the best characters in the trilogy to meet again.
So, why disappointing? Because it is too short. Because there has been nothing in the way of a real meaty adventure issuing forth from Pullman's pen for too long, and because I'm greedy and I want more. Pull your finger out Philip, there's a dear.
on 22 April 2008
Those that have read Pullman's trilogy will find this book an interesting expansion upon the character of Lee Scoresby; how he became an aeronaut and how he met Iorek Byrinson. It is the size of a child's storybook, perhaps two chapters' worth of a normal novel - so you will finish this within a couple of hours. As a stand-alone novel I wasn't left satisfied: it would be better included as an appendix text or supplement to a reprint of the trilogy. It's also very expensive in the shops for what you're getting - the price here is more realistic. Nevertheless, a nice supplement for collectors and fans.
What a joy this book was to behold!
"Once Upon a Time in the North" has the feel of a Cowboy Western story set in the Arctic (perhaps in homage to Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In The West"). It tells the tale of how the 23-year-old Lee Scoresby (already equipped with his unique charisma we have come to love) first encountered his life companion Iorek Byrnison. As an ardent fan of His Dark Materials, it was delightful to notice some happenings here and there that later formed details in the main trilogy - such as the circumstances in which Lee took Iorek onto his balloon, or how he acquired his balloon and rifle. At the end, we also get the briefest of insights into what Lyra is up to after her adventure, which was a nice touch and lures us to further speculation.
The presentation and layout of this novella can also only be described as a delight. The cloth-backed cover and the engraved illustrations are striking, reminiscent of a regal and deluxe 19th Century collectors' edition; meanwhile the fold-out board game and other snippets of authentic-looking media tickle your imagination. It's a type of book where you cannot help but feel tenderness and love for.
Pullman's writing here is once again masterful: there are passages of flowing description, juxtaposed with tension and a quick unfolding of events. Not one word seems unnecessary or out of place. While people may say it was not long enough, I believe that the book's compactness and self-containedness makes the reading of this book a far more fulfilling experience than "Lyra's Oxford" (which at times felt loosely constructed and meandering). It is not intending to be the fourth book in the trilogy and should not be treated as such; rather, it is simply a small treat to enrich our knowledge of Lyra's remarkable world.
While we eagerly await Pullman's meatier and more substantial "The Book of Dust", "Once Upon a Time in the North" is a superb 'snack' to keep us going. If you are a His Dark Materials fan, do not hesitate to buy!
on 30 April 2008
If you ever doubted that Philip Pullman is the greatest storyteller of our time, here's the book to assuage those doubts. This tale of the first meeting of Lee Scoresby between Iorek Byrnison combines adventure, mystery, excitement and humour in one delicious package. Like the other reviewers my only complaint is that I was left wanting much, much more. Having said that, it is the brevity of the story that proves to my mind why Pullman is such a great teller of tales. This is a book for children and adults alike, and while you could read it to your children in the course of a rainy afternoon, you will return to it again and again when your children are in bed to enjoy time and again the richness of the descriptions and the humour of the dialogue and to delight in Lee's relationship with his daemon Hester.
The board game that is included with the book is another treasure which subverts traditional board games in that it is the "loser" of the balloon race (i.e the last player to reach the centre) who actually wins!
on 2 November 2016
Much better than 'Lyra's Oxford', this little book is actually a full story (a kind of short prequel story about how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met) and can stand up on its own two feet and not feel like a waste of money. It's longer, fleshed-out and well written, and felt much more like a return to the world I have missed so much. Now reading with adult eyes and knowledge, I also noticed more things that connected Lyra and Lee's world with ours, especially in terms of industrialisation and technology, and this story with its much more frank look at the world made me wonder how different this world really is, apart from where it's slightly diverged because of the existence of Daemons. 'Once Upon a Time in the North' has a much less fantasy feel to it than the original series, with more focus on community politics, industrial developments, and good old-fashioned gunfights. Lee's a wonderful character and I'm pleased to have got to know him a little better, but I did want to see more of Iorek, and learn more about his past and see something of him develop. The reason this dropped a star, for me, was down to this-- both Iorek and Lee, while over twenty years younger than we see them in His Dark Materials, seem very much the same. Neither of them felt as young as they're stated to be, and I'd have preferred to have seen differences in them and grow an understanding of how they came to be the people they did when they're older. The writing style was typical of this series, concise but ever so visual, with that nice touch of the old-fashioned. The linked documents and game at the end also actually linked to the story and made more sense to include than those that were included with 'Lyra's Oxford'. So overall, I recommend this one way more than 'Lyra's Oxford', as at least it's a satisfying read in and of itself.
It's too short.
It doesn't tell you much more about the dark materials universe.
It's just a straight forward story the two main characters meet and sort out a problem and that's it.
You get a bit more of an insight into Lee Scoresby the aeronaut but nothing of Iorek Byrnison which would have made the book far more interesting.
If you want a really good Pullman adventure story read the Sally Lockhart books first.
The game at the back is good fun but I didn't get the book for that.
on 9 July 2008
As a huge fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, I am quite prepared to read anything else from that universe he is kind enough to write for us. Once Upon A Time In The North is no exception - of course I'd have liked it to be longer, but then I could read these characters forever and never be bored. It's quite obvious when you see the book that it's short, and it doesn't get longer simply because you're enjoying it! I often think, however, that short stories are more difficult to write than novels, and I appreciate the hard work and talent that has gone into producing such a lovely little book.
The hard cover, the beautiful illustrations, the wonderful boardgame tucked away inside the back cover... this all enhances the work, and also it's the way more books should be produced, with obvious care and attention. It's a book you could keep forever and pass down to children, grandchildren, and they would enjoy it as much as you did.
This is because Pullman's tales are timeless. They are full of adventure, fun, loyalty, friendship, intelligence - qualities that just don't date. The story here is no exception. It tells of the first meeting between Lee Scoresby, the Texan aeronaut (and one of my favourite trilogy characters!) and Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear. Pullman's gently descriptive writing coupled with the reader's imagination brings these two allies to life in ways films can't. I loved the Wild West theme and all of the motifs that go with it: the pretty girl, the gun-slinging showdown, and Hester (Lee's daemon) provides an excellent witty companion.
Yes, the story is short, but it's action-packed and interesting, and I would recommend it to anyone who has previously enjoyed the trilogy. If you're new to Philip Pullman, I'd read those novels first, but this stands alone in its own right as a great example of first-class writing.
This book is set around 35 years before the events depicted in His Dark Materials. It gives us a wonderful background of Lee Scoresby, the aeronaut Lyra meets in Northern Lights. In this new story a young Lee sets out to find adventure after a fortuitous win at poker finds him the proud owner of a balloon.
The fact that Lee is greatly under-prepared for flying a balloon adds to the excitement and amusement of how the tale unfolds. It also is the predominant reason for his crash landing into the middle of a confrontation between a Dutch sea-captain and a mining company! Never one to easily be distressed, Lee leaps into the thick of things. The story has all the essential elements of 'good' versus 'evil', as do all of the Pullman books, but it is far from repetitive.
For those who enjoyed the trilogy that this prequels I think you will be very interested in this short story. The echoes that resound between this and some of the events in His Dark Materials merely add to the charm of it. The good thing is that there is plenty of scope for other tales to be woven, as Pullman has many other characters that could be explored equally well.
My only criticism is that it is too short! Other than that it is a fantastic prequel to the trilogy of His Dark Materials, and this edition is beautifully decorated. The fold-out board game is a nice extra, as are the elegant illustrations. A truly adorable little book! If you are a fan of His Dark Materials, I highly recommend adding this to your collection.
on 2 June 2008
This is the second spin-off from His Dark Materials, and follows the hugely underwhelming Lyra's Oxford.
First, the good news. This is longer than Lyra's Oxford and is a cracking good prequel about the first time Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met. The story hits the ground running with action from the start, a tale of corruption, and a shady character from Scoresby's past.
Now, the bad news. The book does not even reach 100 pages, and includes a free game. As with the previous shorter than short story, it's as if Pullman is compensating the reader for lack of content, a carrot that will not please his older readers.
I have given this one more star than Lyra's Oxford, because there is a very good story in here. Trouble is, it could have been so much more.