Review of His Dark Materials Northern Lights by Philip Pulman

February 6, 2011

I was delighted to find the Bloggers Book Club (thanks to Lorna) for a couple of reasons. Firstly I love to read but seem to have looked at nothing but gardening books for the past two years. Secondly, any local book club groups I’ve been aware of always seem to meet on evenings that I can’t.

So this is my first attempt at a book review since my school days many years ago, and I’m not entirely sure of the rules, guidelines or etiquette involved. Do I give away the whole story or just enough to encourage somebody else to pick the book up? I think the first could take too long, so I’ll aim for the later…
His Dark Materials I Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was the first book chosen for 2011, having been suggested mid- month as an alternative to the Disappearing Spoon that we couldn’t seem to find anywhere. I ordered the novel online (as I’d been housebound for most of January with a flu bug) and the book finally arrived on Monday, 31st January – just as I was back on my feet, and with only a few days left to review it.
Having been out of the novel reading mode for longer than I care to admit I was thrilled to find that this was the book that later became The Golden Compass – a film that’s been on my ‘must see’ list but one that I still haven’t managed to catch. I therefore had no preconceptions or mental images of characters involved. I also love a good fantasy.
So what’s it about?
His Dark Matierials I is the first in a trilogy of volumes set in a universe like ours, only with slight differences.
I found this slightly disconcerting at first – reading place names I was familiar with such as Oxford, East Anglia, The Fens but then having to visualize all the human characters with dæmons that were invisibly connected to them – and not demons (as the word’s pronounced) like we usually associate with the name, but comforting, affectionate creatures that were an extension of the characters souls.
That said, it didn’t take long to grasp the idea and warm to the beings, and in particular the children’s dæmons that frequently flitted and changed, be it from mice to sparrows, before finally settling on creatures that mirrored their human’s character, as the children grew into adults.
Initially the idea of having a dæmon constantly with you seemed a good one – you’d never be lonely and would always have someone to throw ideas around with (outside of your head). This unusual concept had a drawback though in that it left the characters vulnerable. Lyra, the feisty 11yr old lead began to find this out as fate led her on a journey to the North, and with it to the wonders and mysteries surrounding the mesmerising world of the aurora, or the Northern Lights.
From the opening chapter I was unable to put the book down and I particularly enjoyed Pullman’s imaginative descriptions, immediately recognising the imageries he conjured, as they swept the reader along from page to page:-
  “the idea hovered and shimmered delicately, like a soap bubble, and she dared not even look at it directly in case it burst. But she was familiar with the way of ideas, and she let it shimmer, looking away, thinking about something else.”
“she felt tears prick her eyes, and the tears split the light into prismatic rainbows”.
I’m glad this book is the first of three. It finished in a way that didn’t need me to go and buy the next one immediately, (very handy for a busy, working mum) but I’ve made a note of the titles and look forward to reading them when I’ve more free time (and haven’t got February’s book to start reading and review!)
I’ll also make a point of letting my family know the books I’ll be reading in the future as when this one finally arrived, our 12 year old muttered “Huh, you should have said mum, we have that book in the school library – I could have borrowed it for you”.


  • Reply Susan February 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I am still waiting for this one to arrive(!)so I've not even read it yet- but it sounds worthwhile. Thanks, Dee- glad you didn't tell the whole story, cuz I too have not seen the film & am like you were- no preconceptions.

  • Reply Greenside Up February 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I'm glad I didn't give too much away then :0)Hope you enjoy it.

  • Reply Lorna February 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Great review Dee, and I know what you mean, I was trying too to review the book without giving away the whole story., I'm looking forward to reading the other books too.
    I read The Reader about 2 years ago and am looking forward to rereading it. I haven't seen either of the films but will do once I've finished the triology and reread the Reader.

  • Reply Greenside Up February 6, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks Lorna, although I don't think I gave it justice once I read your review! I'll hold off watching the film too until I've read all three books, it can't help but influence thoughts and feelings.

  • Reply made marian February 6, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Dee, great review. Welcome to the bookclub. I enjoyed this book too, loved the idea of the daemon.

  • Reply Greenside Up February 6, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you made marian 🙂 looking forward to the coming months.

  • Reply February 6, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Great review Dee (much better then my one), and welcome to the book club.

  • Reply Lily February 6, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Dee, delighted to have you in the book club. Great review. I only finished the book this evening so I'm only reading reviews now. I too really enjoyed this book and didn't expect to at all as fantasy is not a genre which interests me much.

    Maybe I am changing, (not my dæmon!), since I now want to read the other two!

    I love your polka dot background

  • Reply Greenside Up February 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks Magnumlady and Lily. I'm delighted to be with you and looking forward to reading everyone else's thoughts on the book. I'm a bit if a sucker for a good fantasy so this was a great 'first' for me.

  • Reply Greenside Up February 6, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Apologies if my fellow blogger book clubbers aren't on my blog roll…. unless you have an obvious 'Follow Me' button I haven't figured out how to do it.

  • Reply Matthew (The Bibliofreak) November 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Nice review! I'm glad you enjoyed this and hope you go on to enjoy the rest of the trilogy. I've just re-read this, and probably rank it as my favourite of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

    I particularly like Lyra as a character; street-smart, resourceful, and a really strong character, more interesting than someone like Harry Potter who acts as an intermediary between our world and the fantastic.*

    My review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

    *I also love the HP books 🙂

  • Reply Greenside Up November 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks Matthew, you're very kind… had almost forgotten I'd read Northern Lights and you've just reminded me to go and find the following three books. Your review is excellent and puts mine to shame!

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