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His Dark Materials Northern Lights by Philip Pulman

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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.”
 Or
“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”.