Review – The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

From –

Some books improve with age–the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman’s heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra’s Oxford is not precisely like our own–nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal dæmon, the manifestation of their soul in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied:

As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had dæmons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them.

Not that Lyra spends much time worrying about it; what she likes best is “clambering over the College roofs with Roger the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war.” But Lyra’s carefree existence changes forever when she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey dæmon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from “gyptians” to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.

In The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has written a masterpiece that transcends genre. It is a children’s book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist. Best of all, the author doesn’t speak down to his audience, nor does he pull his punches; there is genuine terror in this book, and heartbreak, betrayal, and loss. There is also love, loyalty, and an abiding morality that infuses the story but never overwhelms it. This is one of those rare novels that one wishes would never end. Fortunately, its sequel, The Subtle Knife, will help put off that inevitability for a while longer.

My thoughts –

I know I mentioned before how I really don’t have much experience with fantasy aside from the Harry Potter series (which, by the way, are some of my favorite books of all time).  Having read and loved that series, I’ve always wanted to read more fantasy but simply have never gotten around to it until this point.  I’m thrilled to say that I truly enjoyed beginning the His Dark Materials series and I’m very excited to continue on with it.  Admittedly, it took me a little while to get used to Lyra’s world… there was definitely a learning curve for me; trying to figure out what this dæmon thing is all about, who are all these other creatures, and what is the point of this story in the first place.  But once things started falling into place, the story really took off for me and I lost myself in it.  I don’t know what else to say, really, except that I just really loved this book and am very happy that I have the rest of the series in my possession so that I can get to reading it soon. 🙂

9 stars.

Also reviewed by: Raych at books i done read, Darcie at Reading Derby, Vixen’s Daily Reads, Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf, Care’s Online Book Club, bookchronicle at Adventures in Reading, Biblioaddict, and Charley at Bending Bookshelf. (if I missed you, please let me know!)

15 thoughts on “Review – The Golden Compass”

  1. I really liked this book, too. I’m glad I read it before I knew the movie was coming out, because I was unaware of the controversy surrounding it.

  2. I felt discomfited by this book when I read it in my early twenties. I think it’s time to try again, and that I’ll probably enjoy it this time around! (I’m not as religious as I used to be).

  3. I found this story to be very interesting. I have a mother who is an “addict” and I live up north where “demons” or addiction are very prevalent. This is a great story line, can’t wait to read more about this…

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