The “His Dark Materials” trilogy has been hanging around on my radar since my younger brother read them about 10 years back. Then again when mum read them a year later. Then yet again last year when they came up in conversation with my fiancée. Every single time they were amazed that I’d never read them before, insisting that it was an absolute must-read for fantasy fans. So I figured its about time to check them out.
My original plan was just to read the first book for now, but as with Skulduggery Pleasant I got hooked into the series and went straight into the rest of trilogy. Unlike skulduggery pleasant though, I found these to be a much slower read, but not necessarily in a bad way. But anyway, the review.
The first book in the trilogy is called The Golden Compass (or “The Northern Lights” depending on where you live) and is set in a world similar to our own during the late 19th century. Since it is a fantasy story after all there’s a few pretty big differences, the main one being that everyone has their own daemon, which is an external manifestation of their soul that travels with them wherever they go. The first book doesn’t go into too much depth into what these daemons are and what other differences exist, instead letting you figure these things out yourself based on the little things that happen throughout the story. I personally found this annoying at first because I wanted to know more about the lore of the world , but in retrospect this was done pretty damn well (I’ll explain why shortly). The story of this book tells the tale of a young girl named Lyra, living out her youth in the city of Oxford by playing at wars with the other local children and generally milling around having fun. Until a mysterious group appears in town and children start disappearing, including her friend Roger, starting her off on a grand journey to the north to find and rescue him. It all sounds a bit too kiddy at first, but the story slowly takes a much more mature turn as you make your way through the series, ultimately becoming an all-out war against the forces of what’s pretty much the entire Christian pantheon.
The high point of the series for me though was in the first book. I was reading through it fairly slowly, not thinking it really deserved all the hype and praise it got until I reached a certain scene about halfway through. Lyra’s up north with a group of friends and travellers, trying to find the kidnappers headquarters, when she takes a detour to visit a boy who’s appeared in a nearby village. Nothing seemed strange about this until she met the boy, and then my horror and disgust matched Lyra’s own. The boy didn’t have a daemon. It’s hard to get across just how big an impact that had on me, but I’ll try. Even though they hadn’t delved into the lore too much, the book had subtly been swaying my opinion towards what was considered normal within this world. I hadn’t realised the depths this had sunk in until this young boy without a daemon appeared, and I was struck with the feeling that someone being separated from their daemon was the most unnatural affront to nature imaginable. That was enough to convince me that Phillip Pullman was a damn good writer and kept me going through the rest of the trilogy. The only problem was that I never encountered another moment quite like that again. Sure there were plenty of well-written scenes and parts which made you feel tense, sad or excited, but that one scene was the pinnacle of the series for me.