This is the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy.
I have been trying to get a copy of this book on and off since I noticed that the series came in at number 3 on the BBC Big Read list. It was the only one of the Top 5 that I was unfamiliar with. I couldn’t quite fathom how I had managed to miss out on something that was obviously so popular that it kicked The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a Harry Potter down the list to #4 and #5 respectively.
Unfortunately for me, I may have long missed out because of my age. The series is nominally for Young Adults and was published in 1995. Sadly I was no longer of the demographic by then. Not that age should be a barrier, after all I first made my way through the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh stories as an adult, but clearly my radar in the mid to late 1990s was not tuned in to the latest young adult fantasy fiction.
The story surrounds Lyra Belacqua, ragamuffin at large, and is set in Oxford. This Oxford belongs to an alternate universe where humans have dæmons and there are talking polar bears, witches and Dust.
Many of you may be familiar with the story as it was recently released as the film, The Golden Compass. If you aren’t familiar with the story and wish to read the book, then it should be noted that the Wikipedia page linked here is full of “spoilers”.
Northern Lights is, amongst other things, a grand adventure story, a coming of age story, and an interesting view of organized religion. You can take whatever you like from it, and if you are truly interested, you can visit this Wikipedia entry to read more on the religious aspect.
Personally I enjoyed it very much as an adventure story.
Lyra sets off for “the North” in search of her best friend Roger the Kitchen Boy and other children taken by the Gobblers. The purpose of their taking is unknown, but with the help of the Gyptians, Lyra proposes to rescue them and return them to their families. Along the way she learns about her parents, the Gobblers, the Gyptians, the Witches, the panserbjørn and what all the fuss about the Dust is.
It is not for the faint-hearted, there are some graphically described scenes that would certainly challenge young, young adults. Or maybe I’m old and they see it all on the TV or at the movies these days. I found it to be fast paced and gripping. So much so that today’s visit to the library brought home part two and part three of the trilogy.
Highly recommended for a light, but rewarding read.