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Northern Lights - Philip Pullman

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      04.06.2013 16:40
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      The start of a fantastic series

      'But think of Adam and Eve like an imaginary number, like the square root of minus one: you can never see any concrete proof that it exists, but if you include it in your equations, you can calculate all manner of things that couldn't be imagined without it.'

      PLOT

      This is the story of Lyra Belacqua, an Orphan living in Jordan College, Oxford. Her only relation is her Uncle, Lord Asriel, who left her at Jordan College under the care of Scholars, while he works all over the World. Lyra is a fantastic character, a little girl full of vivacity, strength and stubbornness; but also full of fierce loyalty to her friends, which makes her highly likable.

      Lord Asriel is researching Dust, a celestial phenomenon that is a mystery to all. Through his research, Asriel believes he has found an alternate Universe, visible in the in the Aurora Borealis. Meanwhile, children are going missing, kidnapped by the so called 'Gobblers' and nobody knows where they are being taken, or for what reason. Lyra's best friend Roger has been taken, and she takes it upon herself to rescue him, and all the other children, and bring them home to their families.

      With the help of some powerful friends, Lyra finds where they've been taken, but the truth will shock her more than she expected, and will only make her more determined to help make things right.

      MY OPINION

      I absolutely loved this book. It was sitting on my bookshelf for years, and for some reason, I never got around to reading it. I'm kicking myself now for not paying attention to it sooner. I was drawn into Lyra's world from the first few pages, I couldn't keep myself away from it for more than a few hours before I started to miss it. Lyra is selfless, she keeps going when it would be easier to turn back. She's determined to save her friends, and is one of the bravest little girls I've ever read about. I highly recommend this book to readers of any age, who love stories or friendship and bravery; but be prepared to be sucked into Lyra's World.

      THE AUTHOR

      Phillip Pullman has such a way with words that he had me fearing for the characters in danger, and cheering when they were safe. I could visualise every character and every setting in the book,making it impossible for me to put down. All I could think about was this book, and getting a chance to read the next chapter, which always escalated to several. The whole His Dark Materials series is up there with my all time favourite books, and I will be reading them again and again.

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        26.11.2011 19:45
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        Essential reading, whatever your age

        ** Background **

        If you asked a hundred people on the street to name a fantasy series written by a British author for young adults, I'd be willing to bet that Harry Potter would absolutely trounce the opposition. It's become such a phenomenon since its beginnings in 1997 that that's hardly surprising. However, in my mind it's not the best, not even the best of its decade. That honour goes to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy - which, many people are now surprised to recall, started life two years before JK Rowling's bespectacled boy wizard even appeared on the shelves. For a while, until the Potter juggernaut destroyed all opposition, it was something of a phenomenon in itself. It still should be.

        The first book in the trilogy, Northern Lights, is the most straightforward of the three, and it is also the only one which can be read as a standalone novel without the reader's losing all sense of its meaning. That doesn't mean that I advise such a course of action, since the richness and complexity of Pullman's imagination, the shades of meaning and the depth of characterisation, only become fully clear to the reader who tackles the entire trilogy. However, even before the second and third books had been published, Northern Lights had been awarded the 1995 Carnegie Medal, perhaps the most prestigious of all British awards for children's fiction.

        ** Plot **

        In basic outline, this is a traditional adventure yarn, in which a young hero (heroine, in this case) is plucked from a relatively comfortable upbringing to do battle with mighty forces in far lands. The story follows 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua, who has spent her childhood in Jordan College, Oxford, being looked after in a vague sort of way by a motley mixture of vague academicians, no-nonsense servants and - dearest to her heart - her rag-tag band of friends. Not the least of these is Roger Parslow, a kitchen boy who shares Lyra's sense of adventure, whether this be roaming across the rooftops or fighting great battles with gangs from elsewhere in the city.

        However, Lyra, like everyone else in this particular version of Oxford, is not alone. Everywhere she goes she is accompanied by Pantalaimon, her dæmon - in very broadest essence, a person's dæmon is a sort of physical manifestation of their soul in animal form. It's hard to say more about the nature of dæmons without giving away crucial elements of the plot, which Pullman reveals very deftly as the story progresses, but Pan and Lyra are quite literally inseparable: he will advise her, defend her from danger, comfort her when in need and even complain about her if - as her personality makes sure is quite often the case - she does something he believes is silly.

        In America, this book is known as The Golden Compass, a title retained for the rather unsatisfactory film adaptation. That title derives from a misunderstanding of the nature of Lyra's most important possession: the alethiometer, which tells the truth. Pullman intended it to be compasses, as in the measuring devices, but presumably his US publisher looked at the design of the alethiometer, which does vaguely resemble a navigational compass, and went with that. To me the book will always be Northern Lights. The alethiometer itself is of supreme importance, and Pullman is brilliant at showing us how Lyra comes to relate to it rather than simply suffocating us in a dry explanation.

        ** Characterisation **

        Northern Lights is crammed with fabulous, fantastical characters - literally fantastical, as over and above the presence of dæmons this is not, quite, the England we know - who make you long to enter Lyra's world. Her uncle, the mysteriously powerful Lord Asriel, who speaks of strange experiments in the far North; the gyptians, the boat people of the canals and the Fens; the terrifyingly glamorous Mrs Coulter (not to mention her equally unsettling dæmon); witches; polar bears; Tartar warriors... in the space of the book's 400 pages Pullman gives life and shape to them all. Even those characters who are (or at least seem) entirely incidental to the plot feel like real, rounded people rather than paper cut-outs.

        Pullman's writing style is in some ways a bit of a throwback to an older tradition of children's storytelling, which is not something I object to in the slightest. He writes not in the staccato, semi-slangy way so beloved of many recent authors but in full, crisp sentences which sometimes roll off the tongue so beautifully that you can well understand his admiration for Milton's Paradise Lost. Like any other author he does have his quirks - a peculiar liking for the word "presently" has been noted by a number of readers - but crucially these do not get in the way of the increasingly exciting and emotionally-charged story. The big end-of-chapter reveals are written smoothly and calmly, but one or two of them made me literally gasp in shock - or in sorrow; I defy any reader with a heart to get through this book without a tear or two.

        What I also love about Northern Lights is the way that the camera pulls back and back and back as we move on through the story, never ceasing to enlarge the world. Lyra's adventure begins in a very cramped place indeed, but before too many chapters have passed we're taken to London, and then to sea, and then to the North, where the Aurora shimmers and the ice-floes are ruled by vast, sentient polar bears who wear armour and interact (for good or ill) with humans. And that isn't even the half of it; again, I can't go into details without spoiling the book, but Northern Lights is eventually painted on a much wider canvas than simply a sketch of a polar trek, gripping as Pullman nevertheless makes that.

        ** Extras **

        There have been many editions of Northern Lights in the decade and a half since it first appeared, but the one I'm reviewing here is the one that caused me to rush out to Waterstone's as soon as it was released, despite already having the entire trilogy in an earlier format. The main reason for that was the spellbindingly beautiful cover artwork, only marred very slightly by the "coming soon" strapline for the (then) forthcoming film. The cover of Northern Lights depicts a polar bear gazing calmly out at the reader, his eyes searching your very soul. Beneath, a lone balloon struggles across a stormy northern ocean as the Northern Lights themselves play far above.

        Mention of these various editions also moves me to address one of the more depressing aspects of the novel's reception there, something that was far less of a problem in its native Britain: the ferociously negative reception it received from a minority (but a very loud minority) of Christian critics. It was bad enough for these people that, as would happen later with Harry Potter, Pullman - a non-believer! - was encouraging children to read about a world filled with witches and talking bears. But that the "Dust" that suffuses the entire story was associated in some way with a Church represented as twisted and even malevolent was intolerable. All I can say is: their loss.

        This edition does add an Appendix, not present in the original version of the novel. It's not necessary to have it, and I strongly recommend that you do not look at it until you have finished the book itself, not so much because it contains spoilers (although it does, to some extent) but because you will understand it so much the better after having read the story. Actually, you will understand it even better once you've read the other two books as well, but that's another matter... there's also one of those rather irritating "Here's the first chapter of the next book" teasers, which I try to ignore.

        ** Verdict **

        Amazon charge £5.24 for this particular edition of Northern Lights... but why am I telling you this? You surely already have this book, and the other two besides. If not, then there is something missing from your life, and not just the dæmon by your side. Philip Pullman has written plenty of fiction both before and since His Dark Materials appeared, but it is surely this extraordinary feat of storytelling which will stand as his masterwork. Five stars is not enough; an inky Arctic night of them would still be insufficient. Northern Lights is as beautiful, as ever-changing, as eerie and as heart-stoppingly thrilling as the Aurora Borealis itself.

        [The title quote is from "The Waste Land" by TS Eliot.]

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          15.12.2010 16:24
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          Great for children, but might leave adults a little bored.

          My fiancé offered me to read this book as he enjoyed it when he was younger, and I have finished it easily within 3 days.

          Summary

          The main character is the girl-child Lyra Belacqua whom, accompanied by a host of characters including Roger, her childhood playmate, Iorek Byrnison (an armoured bear), Lee Scoresby (an aeronaut), Farder Coram (a wiseman) and of course her own daemon (a linked being, somewhat akin to the soul) Pantalaimon, travels on a long winding adventure all caused by her uncle Lord Asriel. The real demons in the book though, as the wicked Mrs. Coulter, and the Oblation Board, which you learn about as Lyra does along the way. While the most of the book takes place in the alternate "England", the finale takes place in Lapland ("The North" as it is referred to in the book), hence the title The Northern Lights.

          Metaphors and Meanings

          There's a lot to be said about the messages in the book, and a lot has been said by the critics, some claiming that it is a sleight against the Church and religion, as these themes lay heavily across the expanse of the book. I would argue though that the greater meaning is old vs. new/nature vs. machine. This is expounded far more often than a distaste for religion, a few out-of-context examples being: the Bear's fight, naphtha/anbaric, fur/coal-spirit, and the 'Witches' against the rest of the general populous. Overall the book favours the natural.

          Other Positives

          The book does manage to harness the sense of adventure, although I wouldn't go as far as to say that this is one of the best modern stories, it will captures children's imagination. The characters are well set in their ways, and there are few character continuity problems.

          Other Negatives

          This really is a children's book, and doesn't quite reach the level of young adult, as it is far too easy a read (I finished the book within 3 days). Occasionally Pullman slips grammatically, no doubt due to the dialect of the characters, and uses 'was' where 'were' is the correct conjugation. There is also one continuity error that I noticed, when Pullman refers to 'dollars' and then changes to 'sovereigns' later on. This however, is minor.

          Overall I would say this is a good book for an advanced beginning reader, whom wants to move onto larger books, or for adults who want to recapture that which they may have lost, an adventurous spirit and an inquisitive nature.

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          14.12.2010 18:59
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          a classic

          This story centres around the engaging character of Lyra Delaqua, an 11-year-old girl growing up in a college in Oxford under the supervision of its Scholars, the housekeeper, and the guardianship of the Master. This is not the Oxford some readers may know; it is subtly different in many ways, not least in that Lyra's Jordan college does not exist. More strangely still, every person in Lyra's world has a Daemon, a part of themselves that exists outside the body in animal form. The book follows Lyra and her Daemon, Pantalaimon, and their journey to rescue a close friend. On the way, we discover much about her world, and she discovers much about herself. There are appearances by talking bears, witches, and the mysterious Gobblers. I shall leave the rest to the novel....

          This is the first novel in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Although the story is told from a child's point of view, the themes discussed are actually quite grown up. I first read this when I was around 10 or 11, but I would recommend it strongly for teenage readers and definitely for adults too. It is written in a way that makes it very accessible but not patronising; a skill that some novelists seem to lack. Pullman, by contrast, pulls us into Lyra's world with intriguing details and the intricate politics of a place so like ours, and yet so unlike it.

          The characters are brilliant and three-dimensional: Lyra is arrogant, precocious and yet also the hero; the villains are not simple in their evil, but complex in their behaviour and motives; and even the Daemons have their personalities developed over the course of the book.

          A theme which has gained both criticism and praise is that of religion. It may be that as an atheist, I agree with Pullman's views on the issue, but I did not find them to overpower the novel, but simply to add to its thought-provoking nature (unlike the film). Again, I shall allow the book to demonstrate its stance on religion, but suffice to say it is not portrayed in a particularly positive light.

          Overall this is an imaginative, well thought-out and very well-written book. Particularly the level of detail created is worthy of praise, but equally important is the way the characters are so thoroughly rounded, so as to create real empathy between the reader and even, dare I say it, the villains.

          Highly recommended.

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          18.06.2010 13:14
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          The best childrens book ever

          For years I had been hearing about Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials Trilogy and I genuinely meant to get around to reading them but somehow never did. I was dropping some books off in my local charity shop one day when I seen that they had all 3 books for £1 each so of course I bought them when they were at this bargain price.

          The story follows Lyra Belacqua a precocious young girl who lives in Oxford. However this Oxford is may be familiar to ours but is completely different and is actually in an alternative universe. In this Oxford the people have Daemons. Daemons are animal shaped creatures that are the physical manifestation of their souls, these Daemons cannot go far from their human without causing enormous pain to both of them.
          Lyra and Pantalaimon her Daemon have lived at Jordan college her entire life ever since she was orphaned and her uncle Lord Asriel left her there. Lord Asriel returns to Jordan College to let the professors know that he has found something important in his travels to the north. Lyra eavesdrops and hears that he has found a way to photograph light particles that are emitted from everyone. While photographing the Northern Lights he has discovered the particles are showing the outline of a city in the sky and he wants more money to return and find out more about these strange particles which they call Dust.

          When Lord Asriel leaves Jordan college without Lyra again she is devastated but gets on with her life as before however there are children going missing and the rumours are that a group known as Gobblers are taking the children. When Lyras best friend Roger is taken by the Gobblers she swears that she is going to find him. Mrs Coulter visits Jordan college and takes an interest in Lyra and at first Lyra is flattered by the attention from this beautiful woman with her golden monkey Daemon. Mrs Coulter asks Lyra if she would like to come and live with her and Lyra agrees. Before she leaves Jordan the Master of the college gives her an alethiometer an extremely rare device that after years of study an tell the asker the answer to any questions they have. He warns her not to show it to anyone.

          Life with Mrs Coulter starts well for Lyra and she enjoys having a mother figure for the first time in her life but she and Pan soon realize that Mrs Coulter is keeping her a virtual prisoner for some reason she can't understand and when she finds Mrs Coulters Daemon hunting her room for the Alethiometer she runs away. She is found by the water Gyptians who having lost more of their own children to the Gobblers than others have decided to lead a rescue attempt to the North where they believe the children are being kept. Lyra joins with them in hope of saving Roger.

          Along the way they encounter talking polar bears, witches and discover the awful truth behind why the children are being kidnapped.

          I can't believe I missed out on this wonderful book for so many years! This book is probably one of the best written books I've ever read and the whole thing was a pleasure from start to finish. It is supposed to be a children's book but I can't imagine a child would be able to appreciate the subtlety and sophistication in this story. I suppose they just enjoy the adventure of Lyra looking for Roger but there is so much more to the story than that.

          The character development and world building is spectacular. Lyra is probably one of the best protagonists ever to be immortalized in a book, she is everything a hero should be, she is brave, kind and more than a little arrogant. In the book Lyra is 11 but I was shocked to find myself being able to empathize and relate with her which is down entirely to Philip Pullmans writing. The rest of the characters are just as well written, Mrs Coulter is a fabulous character, a ruthless woman capable of committing real evil but she's not a pantomime villain and Philip Pullman manages to make the reader actually feel sorry for her in parts even though she is responsible for such cruelty.
          I thought the idea of Daemons was great and they are written so well, before I read the book I couldn't imagine I would ever fall in love with a talking animal in a book but I did with Pantalaimon or pan as his name is shortened to in the book. The relationships between the humans and their Daemons comes across as believable, they act like best friends and love each other with all their hearts but argue too as they are forced to be together forever as they can't be separated or else they will die without each other. No one should ever touch another person's Daemon as it is a gross violation for the person and I interperated it to being like rape.
          I also liked the fact that the female characters had male Daemons and vice versa and I thought it was very clever for Pullman to mention some people have Daemons of the same sex as themselves which you can interpret however you wish.

          The world of Northern Lights is so similar to ours and some things are the same but then of course others are different and it's strange to read about places and things that you are familiar with but described slightly different. It is described so well you can picture things with ease. When they are in the North I could picture the snow and the landscape really vividly which is the sign of a good writer.

          I remember when the movie version came out the fuss some religious groups made about the book being anti Christian an anti religious but I never got this from the book. In Lyras universe the church is all powerful and to me the book wasn't criticizing religion as much as organized religions and the powers that be behind them who use their power to push their own agendas and beliefs on people and try to control every aspect of people's lives.
          There are a lot of religious themes in the book and I suppose whether you consider them anti religious is due to whatever your view on the subject is.
          I liked the idea of Dust and what it means in the book. The church believe it is the embodiment of original sin and that's why it doesn't lie on children until they reach puberty and I thought the way it was described was genius and I'm awe of Philip Pullman and his imagination.

          At its heart though Northern Lights is just a great adventure book about a young girl trying to find her friend and I got swept up along with Lyra, Pan and their quest to find Roger and I found myself at times heartbroken but ultimately thrilled and was devastated when my time in Lyra and Pans world came to an end.
          I really cannot recommend this book enough and I realize I have been gushy about this one but I honestly think it is a modern classic that will be continued to be enjoyed by generations to come for many years.

          I hope I haven't gave away any spoilers and I hope my review was informative to you.

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            03.06.2010 02:42
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            A surprisingly enjoyable read suitable for children +

            I was rather hesitant at first reading this book as deemed it aimed at older children however I'm rather glad my boyfriend persisted (and not being able to find the next book in the series I wanted to read probably helped!) and I gave in and read it, cover to cover in just over a day. I'm pretty sure I've read it before as the story line seems somewhat familiar but it's been such a long time I got the privilege or a fresh look at this book. This book can be brought under two different titles due to the film based on it (have seen it at the cinema but didn't leave a lasting impression so will have to update this review if I feel the urge to re watch it!), and browsing around Waterstone's earlier today discovered it was being sold under the film title The Golden Compass. This is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and it has received a lot of positive media coverage, will it live up to all this hype or just be a journey into mediocre?

            Set in a world that almost feels Victorian (personal opinion) but with a huge difference. Everyone here has a personal daemon, and it is thought that this daemon is not only a companion, but an extension of each person soul. There are horror stories of what happens to people once they have had their daemon removed, and it is not pretty!

            This book opens with the lead character Lyra and her daemon entering and hiding in mysterious study called the Retiring Room, a room where females are forbidden to enter, a place for the men of the university she resides in to relax and discuss things in private. Of course this makes the knowledge that much juicier and more interesting, the only problem is will she get caught? And what will become of this new forbidden knowledge? Her uncle gives a lecture as she watches stowed away in the closet, Lyra struggles to concern trait and finds it increasingly hard to keep up with the conversation. What is this talk about dust? And why is there a man trying to find a way to get a daemon, how can he be alive if his is gone?

            Luckily Lyra was caught by her forgiving uncle, suitably chastised she doesn't enter the room again; however it has given her a taste of adventure! So dragging her friend along a kitchen boy they explore the hidden depths of her home the university - how had she not noticed all the interesting places before? This joyous frolicking and exploration is cut short with the Gobblers coming to town. It is said the Gobblers steal children and eat them! However the truth is much worse and Lyra is going to discover the truth and go on an epic quest to protect those she loves.

            Although this book is aimed at older children it will be enjoyed by young and old alike, especially following the movie which should have hopefully helped draw more people towards the wonderful world of reading. It's not a particularly long novel sitting at 399 pages however it has such a compelling story line it draws you on and makes you want to read just one more chapter before putting it down!

            The portrayal of both friendship and love are incredibly interesting as well. As Lyra grew up not knowing her parents told from an early age that they had died, there's an empty place in this child's heart, however as the book goes on it seems she has been living a lie and conflicting feelings emerge towards her new parental figures. Also along with that her relationship with her Daemon Pantalimon is incredibly sweet to witness. It feels like a sibling, parent, friend and love all rolled into one. A physical extension of a person's mind to be protected and cherished. Without this insight into the profound relationship between a human and their daemon the story wouldn't be such an emotional rollercoaster as at a first glance they seem just like a pet, something to love but in the end can be replaced. Nothing could be further from the truth.

            Luckily if you don't have a partner with a slightly younger taste in reading (Goosebumps and Harry Potter it seems >.<), the whole set can be purchased relatively cheaply off Amazon, got to love those 1p sellers!

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              13.05.2010 14:16
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              Can I give it more than 5 stars???

              Northern Lights is the first novel in the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. First published in 1995, it was several years later that I became aware of it, perhaps when the series became popular. I borrowed Northern Lights from my parents about a year ago, but I'm ashamed to say I've only just got round to reading it, and then with the motivation of it being set for my reading group.

              Northern Lights is about Lyra, a twelve year old girl who suddenly finds herself at the centre of world events. The story takes place in a universe similar to our own, where locations are recognisable, but with a lot of differences. This world is also populated by witches and armoured bears.

              Another feature of this universe is that every person has a daemon, that is an animal that is tied to them as their soul and companion. Children's daemons change forms, but as they become adults the daemon settles on one animal form which suits the person's personality.

              I was utterly blown away by Northern Lights. I was hooked within pages by the story of this young girl and the events surrounding her.

              The story is gripping. At first it may seem like a straightforward good v. bad tale, but it really isn't that simple as you get further into it. The lines between who is good and who is bad are no longer clear.

              The universe of Northern Lights is fantastic. It is beautifully written and all seems to make perfect sense - it seems natural that this is how life is there. Pullman doesn't go out of his way to give explanations, so that things which are part of the fabric of life in this universe aren't having to be explained in perhaps badly fitting dialogue. For example, daemons are introduced at the very start of the novel and with no explanation for the reader. You learn about them through chance remarks in the text, but also by simply figuring it out - as time goes on some things become obvious.

              I loved the daemons. The love and attachment between Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon is beautifully written, and incredibly touching. The thought of separation is unbearable to them, and not particularly easy for the reader either.

              The novel is written in the third person, but generally from Lyra's perspective. I think this style is perfect for the story: we follow our heroine closely and know her emotions, but we don't have a twelve year old narrator. Pullman writes in a mature, polished and very accessible style. I've always been a fan of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series, which I think are well written, but I think that Pullman's writing is more intelligent, more polished. Northern Lights is easy to compare to Harry Potter, given the similarities of a child protagonist, similar but different world and a gripping story for adults and children.

              The character of Lyra is not always easy to get on with. I found myself swinging between adoring her and Pantalaimon, and getting irritated with her for being a bit arrogant. In fact, my favourite sections of the story were those involving both Lyra and Pantalaimon, not just Lyra on her own (human and daemon cannot be apart, but sometimes Pantalaimon was not a part of the narrative, although present).

              However, despite my uncertainty over the character of Lyra, I absolutely adored Northern Lights. I thought the story and setting were brilliant, gripping and interesting, I couldn't put the book down. I can't wait to continue reading the series, and I would not hesitate to recommend Northern Lights to adults and children alike.

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                24.02.2010 23:04
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                Good story but could have been written much better

                Northern Lights is a highly awarded fantasy novel about an alternate dimension where everyone has an animal familiar called a Daemon that is in effect their soul. This alternate world is almost identical to ours with a few variations. The story hinges very much around the alternate worlds theory (Basically every decision made spawns 2 or more alternate dimension) the story is about a young girl who unbeknownst to here is destined to save all the multiple realities.
                We Lyra and her Daemon Pan as she leave her home in search of her kidnapped friend along the way meeting a glamorous socialite with a murderous secret and gaining the help of a group of travelling Gyptians, flying witches and even a talking bear. All the time leading to a shocking twist at the end.
                Anyone who's seen the popular movie The Golden Compass will have a fair idea of the story however the book is jam packed with more details and it is a great deal darker than the movie. In my opinion this makes the story told in the book far better than the one told in the movie. That being said I'm not a fan of Pullmans writing style, I felt that although it was deeply descriptive and full of detail it was lacking in feeling and emotion. At no point did I ever really care what happed to Lyra and Pan and even though I was excited about where the story was going and I am tempted to read the next book I never really felt part of it, which in my view is a major failing. All in all I think Northern Lights is worth a read for the sake of a story but it's not one I'll be reading more than once.

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                  28.01.2010 02:06
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                  Provocative and intelligent

                  I don't read all that much children's literature anymore, but Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is one of the most impressively layered and mature out there. Much controversy has been made of the fact that the novels would be appearing to demonise religion through the thinly-veiled sect apparent in the novel, but simply as a compelling fantasy story, this is a great novel, whether you choose to read further into such things or not.

                  The premise revolves around a young girl called Lyra, who is in search of a substance called "dust", which causes her to become embroiled in a war between good and evil, where she near enough has to fend for herself, for her legal guardians are party to this war themselves. While it sounds simplistic, this is purely because I don't want to give too much away. Be assured, while the various art works might make you believe this is a warm and cute story about a girl and a pet polar bear, this is not the case; this is an incredibly daring work that no doubt courts its controversy while being far more incendiary than Harry Potter ever dared to be.

                  Particular credit goes to Pullman for creating a vibrant world that should have translated well to the big screen, in The Golden Compass, but was sadly a dud. It is incredibly imaginative and his decision to so blatantly criticise Christianity was indeed rather bold. That said, it isn't so much tearing down belief systems as much as it is saying that your life needs to be lived now rather than putting stock in a greater existence some time away. It isn't at all dreary about the ultimate nature of death, and is instead quite optimistic by the end of the series. Bear in mind though that if you're a virulent Christian, you probably won't like this book so much.

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                  19.01.2010 15:58
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                  Get ready to be pulled in, and desperately want to read the second book!

                  Northern Lights is the first in Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.

                  Plot overview
                  Lyra is a child who has grown up within the walls of Jordan College, Oxford. When her friend Roger disappears, she and her daemon (to be pronounced as demon) determine to find him. The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where the armoured bears rule the ice and witch queens fly through the frozen skies - and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.

                  Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her - something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights...


                  I found this book to be an enchanting read. The pace was not too fast, and Pullman has done well to explain the concepts involved, and really put vast amounts of emotion into it.
                  My personal interest in books are those that provide some intellectual content, which this book provides well. The air of mystery and fantasy is compelling and witty, with a many-layered and supenseful plot. The only bad point of this book, however, is that it was published for children. I remeber attempting this book during the early years of secondary school, and struggling with the content. Therefore, I recommend this more towards a more mature audience.

                  Summary:
                  A must read - definately one for your collection!

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                  28.09.2009 23:33
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                  great book for children and adults

                  Northern lights is the book that the film The Golden Compass was based on. It is by Phillip Pullman and was published in 1995.

                  Lyra Belacqua lives in Oxford in a parallel universe to our own. It is alike ours in a lot of way but there are some small and a few huge differences. The main one is that every person in Lyra's world has a daemon, an animal which is usual of the opposite sex of its human of which it is inseparable. One day Lyra and her demon Pan go to hide in the scholars retiring room in Jordon College in Oxford. On this day her Uncle Asriel is going to talk to he scholars, and she sees one of them planning to poison him. She tells him at the soonest possible opportunity, and gets to watch his presentation. Asriel shows the scholars the head of a traveller named Stanislaus Grummen, and tells them about 'dust' which he intends to go and study. Lyra wants to go with her uncle and travel to the far north, but she is told to wait. In the mean time she is sent to live with a beautiful woman named Mrs Coulter which children all over England are disappearing without a trace, said to be taken by the 'Gobblers'. One of Lyra's friends, Roger, a kitchen boy goes missing too. So Lyra and Pan run away from Mrs Coulter to find the Gyptians, the people living on barges on the river of England, and they all decide to head to the north too, so they can discover what the Gobblers really are, and to take back all the children that have gone missing.

                  Northern Lights is the first book in the 'Dark Materials' trilogy, and is really quite different from the later two. This book focuses on the world that Lyra lives in and only hints at the suggestion that other worlds may exist. She is a 12 year old girl, apparently an orphan, living in one of Oxfords Colleges and scarping by with whatever education the scholars have time to give her. She spends most of her time playing with the gyptian children and children of the staff at Oxford, especially Roger. Her life changes completely when Roger is taken and the Gobblers appear. She knows that it is her duty to find Roger and all the other children.

                  This book is split into 3 main parts, Lyras life in Oxford, her time spent travelling with the Gyptians, and then her time when she gets to Svalbard and on her way to Bolvanger, the holding place of the children and their daemons. I love all three parts of the book, and it kind of gets exciting as he scenery changes, it helps you feel what it would really be like travelling to such different places, feeling the world become an entirely different place. So that is really what this book focuses on, Lyra deciding what to do and then doing it. It also talks about dust, which is much more important in the other books. Lyra hears the adults talking about it a lot, and they have been studying technology that shows the 'dust' around people, and how there is a lot less around children. Lyra becomes very intereted in this and it shapes the other books deeply.

                  I think the best thing about this particular book is the characters. Mrs Coulter you feel is truly evil, whilst she may not look it you can feel how deep down she is terribly rotten, and i think she is a great enemy for a 12 year old girl to have. Iorek Byrnison is an armoured bear and exiled prince from his home on Svalbard who Lyra hires as a sort of mercenary. Lee Scoresby is Ioreks friend and helps Lyra and the Gyptians travel with the help of his hot air balloon. There is also talk of witches.

                  With so much going on this is a great children's book, although it is not beyond the realm of adult readers either. It's exciting, the characters are fantastic and i love how everyone has a daemon. On top of that there is a great plot with darker undertones. In Lyras world the church has a lot more power, and the Gobblers, or General Oblation Board, as they are rightfully called, work for the church. A lot more of that is explained in the later books, but a lot is set up in this one. Although this is the first of a trilogy i think it can also be read on its own as the story is very different from the other two, and in that way, quite separate from them both.

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                    10.08.2009 07:29
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                    An excellent and imaginative book

                    I am nearing the end of this wonderful, imaginative book (the first in a trilogy) and I can not recommend it enough. Although the writing style takes a while to get used to (the previous set of books I read were the super-flowing masterworks of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series) it is well worth it.

                    Pullman has the ability to not only communicate action and emotion superbly through his writing, but also the feel of the book. This is where Northern Lights excels. The tonic elements are unlike any other I have yet experienced, a few words here and there manage to communicate an overwhelming sense of darkness and intrigue to the reader. This may possibly derive from his wonderful imagination - that every human is accompanied by one's own 'daemon', or the majestic manner in which he lays out the different races and tensions of the world he has created.

                    Although marketed as a children's book, this has all the intelligence and darkness of a fine piece of literature. His subtle, yet overt critiques of the adult world in politics and religion are ingeniusly put across. I can't wait for the second installment.

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                      25.05.2009 11:17
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                      An engaging myth of other worlds and bravery

                      This has been on my mental TBR pile for years, but despite all the recommendations from just about everyone, I remained slightly wary as I am not a great fan of the fantasy genre. In fact, I'm not really a fan of it at all. I love Douglas Adams, but his unique brand of comic fantasy is not exactly typical of the genre, which has a tendency in my mind to try to take itself too seriously. I even failed to read 'Lord of the Rings', dropping it after a few dull chapters, and have thus far refused to consider reading any Harry Potter. Still, when I saw the first in the famous 'His Dark Materials' trilogy on the shelf at a friend's house, I knew that I had to give it a try...

                      Lyra Belacqua is a delightful child to follow: carefree, determined, inquisitive, arrogant in the way most children are, which is simply un-dented confidence, and possessed of a conscience. It is genuinely enjoyable to read about her as she rejects the wisdom of authority figures and sets her heart on finding out about real truths, rather than the history and theology that the scholars strive to teach her. In this sense, she reminds me very much of often 'rebellious' modern children hunched over school desks, learning about ideas and events which are largely meaningless to them, while struggling to make sense of the world that surrounds them today. Despite being fictional, she comes across as being very realistic in her manner and approach to life.

                      The heroine's home town, Oxford, is depicted in a similarly enjoyable way: although some details are evidently changed, it is recognisably Oxford and will doubtless add a certain joy for those who are familiar with the town and can picture the story unfolding with that sense of accuracy and vision which using real places allows.

                      You may be beginning to wonder where the fantastical elements arise in this story. Lyra may almost breathe humanity and live in a recognisable physical location, but she also possesses a daemon - as does everyone else in her world. Daemons are souls which live outside the body and there is a whole social etiquette surrounding them which is at once interesting but also important to illuminating character. Children's daemons change to reflect how they are feeling, but adults' daemons are fixed in a particular animal form, allowing a unique insight into characters personalities - very useful when you're trying to decide who to trust! Lyra's own daemon, Pantalaimon, changes frequently and sometimes rapidly as he seeks to hide with her, protect her or scold her. Pullman describes these shifts briefly but tellingly to suggest nuances in social situations as Lyra's life begins to change in unanticipated ways.

                      Wild Lyra has enjoyed living in Oxford with the Jordan scholars - who, of course, are the best scholars in the World - even though she has no parents and few friends. She spends her time escaping lessons and exploring with Pantalaimon, but ripples are being created that will lead to devastation in her world, and Lyra is, unknowingly, a vital component of an immense plan that will change her world forever. A sense of drama is immediately created in the opening chapter when Lyra witnesses an attempt to poison the only relative she seems to have, the forceful and much-feared Lord Asriel, and hears about a strange material which seems to distress the scholars. Soon afterwards she finds herself travelling North on an epic mission to save her friend Roger from the mysterious Gobblers and discover the true meaning of 'Dust'.

                      As this brief overview shows, there is a lot happening in the story, but Lyra's journey and sense of purpose is always clear. The characters she meets along the way are often strange but fit perfectly within the fictional world Pullman creates. There is somehow a very matter of fact tone which allows a war between bear kings, for example, to be perfectly dramatised. Part of the delight comes from meeting strange characters and learning about the details of their cultures and lives, but Pullman never allows this to detract from the story he is telling us. Key details are interspersed when necessary, or integrated into a story within the story. Gradually, the action moves towards a final, dramatic conclusion in which Lyra realises that she has been drawn into making a terrible mistake...

                      Of course, this is the first in a trilogy so although the ending has plenty of resolutions, it also leaves a door open to the next in the sequence and you would be unlikely to read this as a stand-alone book. It is also worth noting that Lyra's "mistake" is actually part of her "fate" and this element of the story is stressed at the start by the master of Jordan College. If you are someone who believes in free will rather than destiny, then this recurring theme could exasperate you - especially since Lyra is simultaneously depicted as a bit of a wild child and a young girl who is predestined to act in certain ways to bring about the final outcomes.

                      The trilogy as a whole has endured some stiff criticism from certain quarters for being 'anti-religious' and working almost in opposition to C. S. Lewis' 'Narnia' series, which Pullman has openly criticised. However, as with many stories, they only work as allegories if you are prepared to think through the comparisons and their symbolism or significance, and only work as propaganda if you are already willing to be swayed or confirmed in your opinions. I read 'Narnia' as a child without becoming devoutly religious and I anticipate being able to read 'His Dark Materials' without becoming overtly anti-religious! It is possible to read and enjoy the story without being disturbed by ideological interpretations, as I'm sure many young readers will do. Anyway, the religious undertones become more explicit in the later novels and do not really affect the story much in 'Northern Lights'.

                      Overall, this is an engaging and enjoyable read. The characters are engaging and well-written, the action is broken into readable chapters and the similarities between this world and our own will have you eager to discover the differences. If you think you might enjoy it, I advise you to have the sequel lined up, as you will surely want to follow Lyra as her journey enters a new dimension...

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                        29.03.2009 15:38
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                        A great piece of fiction focusing on the quest of a young girl

                        Northern Lights, or the Golden Compass as it is known in America, is the first of the His Dark Materials series by Pullman. The first book was turned into a film in 2007 but failed to generate the expected returns and the rest of the films are unlikely to now be made.

                        The series has however won numerous awards since it was written in 1995. This series is aimed at a variety of ages. Although it may at first seem a children's book the book has far deeper meanings with a particular focus on religion.

                        The book focuses on a 12 year old girl Lyra who is a bit of a tom boy to say the least. In Lyra's world, all humans have Daemons, sort of an external soul. These Daemons take the form of animals, and pre-pubescent children's Daemons can take any form before settling at puberty. The animals are a part of the person and can talk to the people (sounds out but we are in the world of fiction here remember)

                        Hiding in a cupboard she overhears a conversation about the North and Dust which will shape the journey she is unknowingly about to embark on. The Gobblers are stealing children and no-one knows why. Lyra sets out to save her best friend Roger who has been captured and to help her Uncle Asriel who is also being held captive in the North. She meets a number of people along the way, including Mrs Coulter, Iorek Byrnison and Lee Scoresby, some of whom are not what they seem. Pullman never allows a dull moment with his unexpected twists and turns at every corner.

                        The final chapter of the book ensures you are going to be desperate to continue Lyra's quest in the next book of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife.

                        The book does have a religious tone to it, but then so does the Lion the witch and the wardrobe. The religion and blasphemy can be somewhat ignored if you just wish to enjoy this as a great piece of fiction. However, depsite being a completely unreligious person myself, the book does leave you with some interesting questions.

                        Pullman is also currently working on an accompanying piece called The Book of Dust.

                        This is a must have for any book-shelf and I would highly reccommend it to teens and adults alike.

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                          19.02.2009 22:42
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                          Great start to the trilogy of His Dark Materials Books!

                          Northern Lights is the first of 3 books in a trilogy by Philip Pullman. I would say the style is similar to Harry Potter, not plot wise, but in whom it's written for. Although found in the Teenage section this book is by no means childish.

                          The book is a fantasy set in a world strikingly similar yet parallel to ours. Young orphaned Lyra begins a quest to the North after her friend Roger is taken by so called 'gobblers'. Throughout her journey she meets many colourful, likeable allies along with some truly horrifying enemies. Lyra's quest takes on a new role as she discovers more about her past and her family throughout her trip. The scene is well and truly set for the second book and I most certainly look forward to continuing the trilogy.

                          I am not surprised at all that this book has won two awards and that it is so high up on the top 100 book lists. It is incredibly easy to read and certainly for me, kept me enticed along the way. I got carried away in Lyra's world wanting to find out what would happen. The storyline is pretty fixed, she goes on a quest to find her friend, things happen along the way but the storyline doesn't drift off which is a definite positive for me.

                          Lyra is instantly loveable an innocent child hell-bent on rescuing her friend, you can't help but be inspired by her courage and heroism along the way. Other characters introduced throughout are imaginatively created by Pullman, most notable to me is the warrior bear and of course Lyra's closest companion her Daemon Pantalaimon, a shape shifting animal that each and every human has. The "baddies" are also well created and you genuinely feel for Lyra as she is betrayed and hunted by her enemies.

                          To summarise, I really enjoyed this book. I was not surprised because hearing it was similar to Harry Potter, and being a fan of those I was quite eager to get a copy. I wouldn't recommend this to people who like to be challenged by a book as it is like reading a glorified fairy tale but for me it was perfect, a really easily readable book that not only entertained me but kept me hooked along the way. Highly recommended!

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