Author: Philip Pullman
This review is about the whole His Dark Materials series! Hurray! Thanks to my classmates for giving me the money to buy the last book :’)
Lyra Belacqua has a large destiny in front of her, but she isn’t aware of it yet. When the Gobblers get hold of her friend Rodger, she and her dæmon Pantalaimon are determined to go North to rescue him. But north is where the armoured bears are, where the witches fly through the frozen skies and there is a facility conducting experiments of unspeakable horror.
In a new world Lyra encounters Will, a boy on the run, who will become her most trusted ally. Together they enter another world where there are soul eating Specters, creatures that can be only kept at bay by a special and most dangerous knife. Something is about to happen and it is going to shake the very foundations of belief. Both are searching for something else, but their lives will be intertwined forever.
Will and Lyra set out to succeed in their otherworldly quest, but danger lurks in the shadows. War wages between the two forces that now oppose each other, both equal in power. But the children now have to face another threat, as they go to where no living being has ever gone before…
Book 1: Northern lights
Long ago, when I was still young (and maybe even adorable), I read this book in Dutch at primary school. I couldn’t really remember a lot of it except that there were gypsies and some kind of talking animals. So when the film appeared I was over the moon.
Now I’ve reread the book and the film is nothing compared to this! This book is just beautiful!
In this series the reader follows Lyra but, yeey, not in first person. This one point made me so incredibly happy and it was a very good way to start a book.
Lyra grows up in Oxford, but it is an entirely different Oxford than the one we know. Her world is different than ours in many ways and Pullman does a great job at bringing this world to life. First of all there are in her world creatures that are called dæmons, everyone has one and they must be seen as a part of the person they belong to.
But something is changing and it is soon out in the open that children are starting to disappear all over this world. When Lyra’s friend is also missing, she is ready to go so that she can find and might even rescue him. If rumour is true for once she’ll have to go north, to where the armoured bears are, in order to retrieve her dear friend. However she will not be able to get there by herself and so when a certain Lady offers to take her there, Lyra is keen to go with her. It is only unlucky for her that things rarely ever go as one wants.
I will not go into too much detail on the context because I think that you have to read this book yourself but I would like to highlight some aspects of this book that I really liked:
- Armoured bears.
These are the bears that inhabit the north, their capital is Svalbard. These bears are huge polar bears and they are able to forge their own armour out of the metal that comes from meteors. I think these bears are a great addition to this story, they are quite unlike most beings a reader encounters in fantasy novels.
These women live in different clans all over the place in Lyra’s world. The women have one Queen per clan and there is a hierarchy in the clan. Pullman really sets a good picture of them in the first two books.
I personally like these gypsies because some of them had Dutch names and that is just lovely for me (being Dutch and all). These people have a great sense of humour and their role in society is well defined in this book.
This book was a nice introduction and it really set the bar quite high for the rest of the series. There was also a clear underlying theme set here and this is a somewhat critic view on the church and its lust for power in Lyra’s world.
Overall the detail was lovely and the way he created the entire picture really kept me hooked from start to finish. There was enough action throughout the book and I really think that this idea with the dæmons is very original. Everything is quite easy to follow. In my opinion this book is a good read for adults, young adults and the older children. This series starts out with a lot of potential.
Book 2: The Subtle knife
This sequel is where we are introduced to Will. He is still a boy but he already carries a lot of responsibility on his young shoulders. Years ago his father suddenly vanished and slowly his mother started to get ill. For a long time now he has taken care of her and he would do everything to keep her from harm, everything. And so now he is on the run, he left is mother somewhere safe and now he is fleeing from whoever is looking for him. But the man following him is not just looking for the boy, he is also looking for something the boy now has in his possession, letters sent by his father a long time ago.
Will and Lyra meet in another world which is stalked by scepters, creatures that feed on the soul of grownups. When Lyra enters our world and gives the reader a completely new view on our world. She sees everything here differently and I thought that it was quite interesting to read.
Here we are also introduced to Mary Malone, a scientist and ex-nun, who has invented a machine that is able to detect dark matter, or what Lyra would call dust.
This book is different from the first book of the series most of all because it’s not set in just one world but in multiple worlds, which can cause for confusion of one doesn’t pay attention. There are also different main characters here, including the two I already mentioned above. Then there is the discovery of the knife (a knife that can cut a window to another world! Awesome) and that somewhat redirected the plot I think. In this second part of the series there is already a more important role for the Church and the rebellion that is to come in order to destroy the authority/God. Even angels are getting involved here but at this point it is not annoying yet, just obvious.
The specters are new as well but that is logical since Lyra and Will are often in this new world where these creatures are found.
Luckily for the reader there is still a lot of action and at least one scene that will move you to tears (to be honest: yes I cried). One thing that I liked was that Pullman really showed the human nature in this book and the difference between the humans from different worlds, it made the characters complete in my opinion.
Still I was a bit disappointed by this second book and I am still not able to really say why. I think it is just because it was so different from the first book that I found it harder to accept.
But overall it was still a decent book and I mostly enjoyed myself while reading it. Sometimes it left me puzzled but most of the time it just made me wonder even more where this series was heading and it kept my attention most of the time.
Book 3: The Amber spyglass
The very last book in the series and to my own dismay the one I dislike the most. There were even more characters introduced and the emphasis was mostly on the rebellion against the authority/god/whateveryouwanttocallhim. The angels are more actively involved and there was a short piece devoted to two of the angels (I shed a tear in the end for reasons you’ll have to find out yourself).
Anyway in this part you’ll nearly drown by the flood of biblical/Greek/Roman mythology references. It could have been so interesting but in the end I think it wasn’t that well executed.
MIND YOU FROM HERE ON THERE’LL BE SPOILERS IN ORDER FOR ME TO EXPLAIN MY COMMENTARY! (if you don’t want to read the spoilers than look for the SAFE).
The reason why I think that is wasn’t that well executed is mostly the lack of ‘depth’ as it where on the whole the Almighty/Authority subject. Let me explain:
Yes, there is a part where a tiny piece of it is explained by the angels with the separate storyline but it could have been so much more than that. There are hints throughout this book but I never really liked the just hints. There is one time when Ms. Coulter sets foot on the Clouded Mountain and meets the one behind the power the rebellion fights against… but it all gets cut off so soon, within a few pages he’s just dead and that’s it.
It just could have been so much more than this, I really think it could’ve been and that might make my judgement seem a little harsh.
Then there was the storyline concerning Mary Malone.
She’s been ordered by the dark matter to go to another world and do stuff… yeah… So she finds the portal in Oxford on her world, moves to the other world with the specters (who for some reason are not at all interested in her) and then gets to a world where there are very high threes and some strange animals with trunks that have antlers and they somehow use seed pods as wheels. I might have missed the significance of it because maybe it was there but I was quite unable to see the use of her going especially into that world… did I mention that according to the church she was supposed to tempt Lyra? Lyra would supposedly be tempted by someone like Eve had been tempted back in paradise but I also couldn’t really find the part where Mary tempted Lyra? Could have been me and If anyone can tell me otherwise I will gladly edit this part of my review but it really missed the mark with me.
SAFE (here’s where the spoilers stop)
What I did like was the journey Lyra and Will took and what they had to go through to achieve their goal. It really shows that someone has to work for what they want and that it doesn’t just waits for you on a bench until you find it, just like that.
What I especially liked in this book was how it showed that the world(s) were one and that everything is connected to each other through dust. I think it would be beautiful if that truly was the case.
What was very well executed was that in the end it was clear where the specters from the second book came from, how they were created and what the effect of the Subtle Knife was on the different worlds.
But even if I am disappointed by this final book of this series I still cried my eyes out at the end because that’s what I do. The end really got me. Even though I would have loved it if there would have been an epilogue of some kind which would have told me in short what would have become of Lyra and Will.
Overall I liked the detail, use of language and the concept was a really good one. I really liked to see the change in the main characters throughout the series, mostly in Lyra of course since the series is often focussed on her. It really shows how she has grown because of her experiences.
I too liked the idea of how things are connected to each other and even though I wasn’t that fond of the whole biblical/Greek/Roman reference part I did like the fact that the Pullman mentioned that a human was divided into three: a body, a soul and a dæmon.
This is really difficult for me to rate but I think I’ll settle for 3 stars in the end. On Goodreads I rated Northern Lights 4 stars, The Subtle Knife 3 and The Amber Spyglass 2 stars and so I think that 3 stars for the overall series.