Sorry I'm late with this today, life just got in the way. If you haven't experienced Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, give yourself a treat and find it. It's absolutely wonderful adventure fantasy, set in an alternate universe where everyone has their own personal 'daemon', and the main character Lyra, can pass between universes. Want to find out more - read them and see. There was a movie made of the first book, with Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra. If you saw the movie, don't let it put you off reading the books.
Some books improve with age--the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman's heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra's Oxford is not precisely like our own--nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal daemon, the manifestation of their souls in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied:
As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had daemons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them.
Not that Lyra spends much time worrying about it; what she likes best is "clambering over the College roofs with Roger the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war." But Lyra's carefree existence changes forever when she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey daemon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from "gyptians" to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.
In The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has written a masterpiece that transcends genre. It is a children's book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist. Best of all, the author doesn't speak down to his audience, nor does he pull his punches; there is genuine terror in this book, and heartbreak, betrayal, and loss. There is also love, loyalty, and an abiding morality that infuses the story but never overwhelms it. This is one of those rare novels that one wishes would never end. Fortunately, its sequel, The Subtle Knife, will help put off that inevitability for a while longer. --Alix Wilber
The Subtle Knife offers everything we could have wished for, and more. For a start, there's a young hero--from our world--who is a match for Lyra Silvertongue and whose destiny is every bit as shattering. Like Lyra, Will Parry has spent his childhood playing games. Unlike hers, though, his have been deadly serious. This 12-year-old long ago learned the art of invisibility: if he could erase himself, no one would discover his mother's increasing instability and separate them.
As the novel opens, Will's enemies will do anything for information about his missing father, a soldier and Arctic explorer who has been very much airbrushed from the official picture. Now Will must get his mother into safe seclusion and make his way toward Oxford, which may hold the key to John Parry's disappearance. But en route and on the lam from both the police and his family's tormentors, he comes upon a cat with more than a mouse on her mind: "She reached out a paw to pat something in the air in front of her, something quite invisible to Will." What seems to him a patch of everyday Oxford conceals far more: "The cat stepped forward and vanished." Will, too, scrambles through and into another oddly deserted landscape--one in which children rule and adults (and felines) are very much at risk. Here in this deathly silent city by the sea, he will soon have a dustup with a fierce, flinty little girl: "Her expression was a mixture of the very young--when she first tasted the cola--and a kind of deep, sad wariness." Soon Will and Lyra (and, of course, her dæmon, Pantalaimon) uneasily embark on a great adventure and head into greater tragedy.
As Pullman moves between his young warriors and the witch Serafina Pekkala, the magnetic, ever-manipulative Mrs. Coulter, and Lee Scoresby and his hare dæmon, Hester, there are clear signs of approaching war and earthly chaos. There are new faces as well. The author introduces Oxford dark-matter researcher Mary Malone; the Latvian witch queen Ruta Skadi, who "had trafficked with spirits, and it showed"; Stanislaus Grumman, a shaman in search of a weapon crucial to the cause of Lord Asriel, Lyra's father; and a serpentine old man whom Lyra and Pan can't quite place. Also on hand are the Specters, beings that make cliff-ghasts look like rank amateurs.
Throughout, Pullman is in absolute control of his several worlds, his plot and pace equal to his inspiration. Any number of astonishing scenes--small- and large-scale--will have readers on edge, and many are cause for tears. "You think things have to be possible," Will demands. "Things have to be true!" It is Philip Pullman's gift to turn what quotidian minds would term the impossible into a reality that is both heartbreaking and beautiful. --Kerry Fried
The third installment of the wonderfully successful trilogy from Phillip Pullman will not disappoint. Starting with the return of Lyra, readers know they are in for a great ride. Will's hold on the magical blade that can cut between both worlds is staunch, the introduction of new worlds produces questions and answers, and the war with the Kingdom of Heaven swells forward. The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife offered readers fantastic tales of a mysterious and bizarre word. In this finale, Pullman ties up loose ends and also provides nail-biting revelations, as Dr. Mary Malone and Mrs. Coulter look to a future no one could have predicted. And the secret of Dust will astonish many readers. Prepare to be blown away with the conclusion to this modern classic.(less)
Thank you to Goodreads for these amazing summaries - I couldn't do better. Don't let the comment about it being appropriate for adults get to you, everyone takes something different away from the exerience. They are just great reading -well IMHO, anyway. I loved them, in fact it's about time I read them again!