Book Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

I am not very sure who decides what books fall in the YA section in a bookshop. I found a copy of Pullman’s first book in the Dark Materials series lying in the young adults section in one store and in science fiction section in the other. The only objection I have here is that someone put this book right next to the Twilight series and there is no reasonable way for anyone to explain this placement.

Northern Lights a.k.a Golden Compass is the first in the series of three fantasy books written by Philip Pullman in his Dark Materials series. I have been meaning to read these books for the past five years. Yes, there is something to be said about too much choice and how it can distract one from gleaming gems.

Philip Pullman

The books starts an epic set in an alternate world, which is quite like ours with some minor differences that help the author to give a strong commentary on our world all in the disguise of a fantasy for young adults. The most important difference is that humans in this world have tangible souls that take shapes of animals. Ones soul (called daemon) is a companion that is always around and shares the most intimate thoughts and moments. While kids would find this as the most endearing pet, it helps the author to visually depict the personalities of characters with utmost ease. The daemons of children change shapes to indicate the innermost feeling of the child; while they slowly take one shape as the human grows up and develops a fixed character.

This is a story of Lyra, an orphan brought up by the teachers of the college in Oxford, who is wild, carefree, and sassy. She lives a happy life playing with her friend Roger, a kitchen boy, sinking gyptians’ boats, and bullying other kids. Her life changes suddenly when little kids begin to disappear, and one day her friend Roger is taken away. She then starts her travel to the North, which is the land of mystical things and people she has always heard about from the scholars and her uncle, Lord Asriel. As she embarks on her voyage, the master of the college gives her the golden compass – an aethalometer. It is a device that tells the truth but Lyra must figure out to use it.

The book takes us through a gripping journey with ups and downs where Lyra’s only constant companion is Pantalaimon, her daemon. However, the journey is made fascinating with meeting of many brilliant characters like witches, armored bears, gyptians, and Mrs. Coulter, the lady of unimaginable charm and unthinkable malice. The book turns into a racy read with the coming of a Texan aeronaught, who I can only think of as a cowboy and of Iorek Brynison, the armored bear. With a little help of her friends and a lot of planning of the destiny, Lyra discovers terrible truths and horrible lies. The book, obviously, ends at a cliff hanger!

But if you read fantasy, then you cannot complain about this.

What seems like a fairy tale of good and evil, is actually a story full of horrid facts like how a powerful Church can destroy people, their souls, and their ability to think freely. I am not sure whether I can place this book in the science fiction (as it is full of scientists studying the universe and its formation) or fantasy (because there are talking bears and flying witches) but I would definitely not put it next to my beloved Harry Potter series in the YA section.

It is a fantastic read, and in my eyes a classic. I would rate it somewhere between Lord of the Ring and Chronicles of  Narnia. Only it is way easier to read than LotR.

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5 Responses to “Book Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman”

  1. So glad you started this.

    You’ve made even more excited about reading it now. Plan to that once my cartons open. I have the entire trilogy. Enjoyed the movie too…sucks they didn’t adapt the other two.

  2. rechristened Says:

    Great series. It’s definitely not a sci-fi for me. Fantasy, yes.

    Enjoy!

  3. midnight rain Says:

    ‘His Dark Materials’ is a super read – I love ‘Northern Lights’ and prefer it to the next two in the trilogy. Lets see what you think to he rest… Happy New Year ( though a little late in the day!)

  4. This boks are great! I read all the trilogy almost two times at year because they are awesome book! Waiting for the dust book… It will come one day, maybe T_T

  5. I really like the His Dark Materials trilogy, and this is surely the best of the bunch! You make a good point about its readibility. Although it has some slightly obscure references, it is still a lot easier to read than the LOTR books.

    I’d have thought this falls plum into junior / ya sections in bookshops but eh, what do I know?

    My review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

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