How do I review a book that has shaped the majority of my reading life? I first picked up this book around the age of 10 and His Dark Materials became an obsession with me for the the early part of my teenage years, neck and neck with Harry Potter. This series is exceptional, both as a children’s book and and adult work full of complexities and exciting ideas.
Lyra Bevacqua and her daemon live carefree and half wild amongst the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. One night she sneaks into the Retiring Room to spy on her Uncle Asriel, giving a talk to the scholars before his expedition to the North, and her life changes forever. Meanwhile children all over the country are going missing and Lyra heads on a quest North where witches fly on pine branches, bears rule in ice palaces and scientist are conducting horrifying experiments under the Aurora.
There are no words to describe how thrilling this book is, 18 years after I first picked it up it still excites me. Pullman has a gift for characterisation- these are characters that stay with you forever- the beautiful Mrs Coulter with the golden monkey, Lord Asriel, Lee Scoresby and of course, Lyra herself. I loved her as a child for the same reason I loved Mary from The Secret Garden, for being a sort of anti-heroine. She is a skilful liar and lies as often as drawing breath, she can be selfish, violent but she has a heart of pure gold and courage which is why she wins so many people over.
The story itself is both a gripping adventure story and subtle one of magic and ideas. One of my favourite moments is when Lyra is talking to a witches daemon (an outward expression of a human being’s soul) a snow goose.
He raised his wings and spread them wide before folding them again.
“There,” he said, “I have just brushed ten million other worlds and they knew nothing of it. We are as close as a heartbeat, but we can never touch or see or hear these other worlds except in the Northern Lights.”
I am re-reading this series in anticipation for La Belle Sauvage which comes out next week. It is a captivating series with so many layers that I find something different to enchant me every time I read it.