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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, #1) - Book Review

4/5 Stars

There are worlds beyond our own

- the compass will show the way...


Edition: Paperback
Pages: 397
Chapters: 23
Publisher: Scholastic

Book Links: Goodreads
                      Amazon
                      Author's Website

Review

Northern Lights is one of those books that beeps on your radar whenever you see it. It's almost a childhood classic for many, and just as many have pushed me to give it a try. Which, as you can see, I have. Set in an alternate version of our world, Pullman creates a fantasy environment that can best be described as a steampunk Victorian era, one full of fantastical fiction and metaphysical madness.

It's engrossing and exciting, with smooth, indescribably addictive writing that just sweeps the reader up in its severity. And severe the novel is. While a book aimed at young adults, Northern Lights explores many existential themes that, although I found them at times heavy-handed, offer a different perspective for adults.

Armed with the political and the religious, prepare yourself for a thoughtful ride that begs for another read.

Synopsis

There are worlds beyond our own - the compass will show the way...

When Lyra is given the strange and secret alethiometer, she begins an extraordinary journey that will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. The destiny that awaits her will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world...

Plot - 4/5 Stars

Northern Lights is instantly intriguing. Its world reassures with a dash of familiarity and inspires with a generous helping of the author's imagination. From there we set forth on a massive adventure, the kind you remember dreaming of as a child. I will admit, the themes and questions raised at the beginning of the novel can get pretty repetitive (for example, and no spoilers, the constant 'Dust' queries), and I was overwhelmed.

But, in retrospect, I think it works. For younger readers Northern Lights provides a thrilling tale, and the nostalgia from that tale will no doubt drive them back into the series as adults, revealing facets of the story that they missed as children. Essentially, the plot ensures that, eventually, you'll reread the novel.

Daemons and Dust and delicious developments that completely confound you drive you forward. You have a very loose grasp of the massive events, but this fits extremely well with our eleven-year-old protagonist's youthful ignorance. There's no denying the magic, however, a magical journey with an awesome mystery, action-packed battles, and gripping suspense. 

And let's not forget about those themes. Northern Lights might anger you more religious readers with its science over faith ideals, but you can't deny its invigorating quality of aspiring for inner good rather than the favourable judgement of an unseen deity. We explore the known vs the unknown, innocence vs experience, and politics vs, well, other politics. All weave a fine environment that has you questioning your morality and future.

I'm even sure a lot of the novel's messages sailed right over my ignorant head, which, again, increases the chances of a reread.

And the conclusion, with its promise of other worlds and deeper depths, ensures you'll pick up the sequel the first chance you get.

Pace - 4/5 Stars

As is common with beginning entries, Northern Lights starts slow as it builds its foundations in a variety of categories. It's worth it, but the first 100 pages can be weighty with the construction and questions it offers. 

It does pick up in glorious fashion, stunning the reader with inventive information and epic fights of bloodthirsty brilliance.

Characters - 4/5 Stars

Northern Lights showcases its cast with shining examples of fantasy heroes. We have ice-bears and witches and foreign armies; there are religious entities fighting to collapse anyone who disagrees with their doctrine. The politics of the novel can often be sharp, but a lot of the time they remain out of focus of our main character, like ghosts: Ethereal, but haunting.

Lyra, our distinctive eleven-year-old protagonist, is a tenacious little tyke in the warmest way. She's naive, but perceptive; reckless, but resourceful; stubborn, but glowing with compassion. Her smart mouth provides much-needed comic relief and a maturity that lets adults know children aren't as clueless as they'd like to believe. The way the adventure moulds her, from an inexperienced child to a hearty survivor, is the stuff of dreams.

Other characters, like Mrs Coulter and her sweet facade that can collapse into unnerving brutality, pad out the book with meaningful threads of story. 

Northern Lights has a wondrous cast.

Writing - 4/5 Stars

Beautiful writing paints vivid pictures of a world that resembles ours but is all the more fantastic (sorry, reality). Pullman is excellent at building a scene and interspersing it with interesting ideas and smooth dialogue.

It's very, very addictive.

Overall - 4/5 Stars

Northern Lights is a rich fantasy that caters to both children and adults. A pulse-pounding adventure lies in wait for both, while themes focused on theology, philosophy, and the uncertainty of our origins rivet the more mature readers with unanswerable questions.

It's also the perfect time of year to pick the story up, with its winter-wonderland landscapes and feel-good progressions.

And before I forget: Merry Christmas, folks.

It's nearly a new year again...


Next Instalment: The Subtle Knife


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