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The Big ReadHis Dark Materials

Philip Pullman

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Scholastic Press

Published : 2004

Copyright : Philip Pullman 2004

ISBN-10 : HB 0-43999-434-9
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-43999-434-7

Publisher's Write-Up

His Dark Materials
A luxury edition of all three books in the His Dark Materials trilogy in one volume. Contains Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

Northern Lights
In this first part of the "Dark Materials" trilogy, Lyra's friend Roger disappears. She and her daemon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him. Their quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North where a team of scientists are conducting unspeakably horrible experiments. This is the first in the trilogy in which a new universe has been created. A world where daemons swoop and scuttle along the streets of Oxford and London, where the mysterious Dust swirls invisibly through the air, and where one child knows secrets the adults would kill for…

The Subtle Knife
The second book in the "Dark Materials" trilogy. Will is 12 years old and is on the run. He's killed a man and now he must flee Oxford and attempt to find his father - an explorer who sought the North Pole and who never returned from his expedition. Will's search for his father leads him to another world, where he encounters a girl and her wildcat daemon... Lyra. After crossing the abyss between the worlds, Lyra finds herself thrown together with Will, in a beautiful but eerily deserted city. It is a city haunted by Spectres - ghostly forms that prey on adults, leaving a world dominated by orphaned children. But even in another world Will cannot evade those who seek to destroy him, and thus the journey continues…

The Amber Spyglass
The final instalment in the "Dark Materials" trilogy. For all those who are dying to learn the fate of Will and Lyra, hoping for the return of Iorek Byrnison, longing to know the truth about Dust, and waiting to face the ultimate clash of opposing powers, this book has the answers. Lyra lies sleeping in a cave near a rainbow, drugged into unconsciousness by her mother, Mrs Coulter, whose love for her daughter closely rivals her own ruthless ambition. Now, the latter threatens to overcome the former, as she strives to prevent the events which are dependent on the decisions Lyra is fated to make. Meanwhile, Will - scarred and traumatised after his last, fatal meeting with his father - seeks blindly for her, with only two of Lord Asriel's angels as companions on his dangerous search. The two are fated to meet once more, however, and begin their most treacherous journey. For Lyra owes a great debt, and she must repay it - she must rescue her friend from the Land of the Dead. Neither are prepared for the terrible sacrifice they must endure, or for the universal consequences of their actions. Lyra and Will must play their part in the war between the worlds and heaven...

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Nadine (180207) Rating (9/10)

Review by Nadine
Book Source: Purchased
Rating 9/10
Although I read His Dark Materials as three separate volumes, I hear that it will soon be published as an omnibus. I will review it as such because although each of the three books has its own plot, you can’t really read one without reading the other two. Not if you want to fully appreciate the depth and majesty of the series, anyway. In this case the whole is very much more than the sum of its parts, and to treat each of the three stories separately almost seems to do the series an injustice.

The first part, Northern Lights, seems on the surface to be a straightforward fantasy adventure about a wayward, irresponsible girl named Lyra, who inhabits an alternative version of our world. Lyra’s world has the same countries and cities, the same languages, and similar customs and cultures. But there are intriguing differences. This is a world where the Church is in charge of everything, from education to the Military. Scientific research seems to be closely monitored by the authorities, and any discovery deemed too revolutionary is suppressed. Perhaps this is why the concept of electricity appears to be a new one, and is differently named.

Arguably the most fascinating aspect of Lyra’s world is the concept of Daemons. A Daemon is a portion of one’s personality that exists as a separate entity, in the form of an animal. It follows its human everywhere and neither human nor Daemon can bear to be separated from the other. From the very beginning, I was engrossed by this idea, and at points throughout the story we learn a little more about the nature of Daemons. But it’s not until the very end of the series that we fully understand.

Northern Lights also introduces us to “Dust” – invisible, particulate matter that seems to affect adults in some mysterious way, but not children. To uncover the mystery of Dust we must be patient, because it requires a journey that will take us through many dimensions, collecting fragments of information from numerous sources.

Lyra’s adventure begins when her best friend is abducted. She embarks on a journey to find him, encountering a whole cast of original and engaging characters. Her quest leads to some shocking discoveries about her family, her friend’s disappearance, and the universe itself. It also forces her to take a good look at herself and her behaviour, and she visibly begins to “grow up”. The book ends with the door wide open to a whole new adventure. Anyone reading the books as individual volumes rather than the omnibus edition will not rest until part two is in their hands.

The Subtle Knife introduces Will – a boy from the world we are more familiar with – and his bid for escape after accidentally killing an intruder in his house. His path crosses Lyra’s at a sort of crossroads between worlds, and together they discover the eponymous knife – a blade so sharp that it can cut through the invisible barriers between dimensions. The story now ceases to be merely the tale of a girl’s adventures while travelling, and deeper mysteries begin to emerge. The tone becomes more eerie and there is a sense that this book is going to cover far bigger topics than just a child growing up.

The final instalment – The Amber Spyglassfeatures a host of new characters including Mary Malone – a scientist from our world who has made a discovery that brings her close to uncovering the truth about the formation of the Universe. We also meet the Mulefa – an intelligent race from another world on which evolution took a different path. Easily the most richly imaginative of the three volumes (and that’s saying something), The Amber Spyglass brings together all the threads of storyline from the first two novels, answers all the outstanding questions, and takes us on an astounding journey across countless worlds, the heavens, and even death.

It’s a courageous author who tackles such vast themes as existence, death, morality, love, faith, the formation of the universe, sin and wisdom…and presents them in three relatively short volumes of fantasy for young readers. It’s safe to say I’ve never read anything quite like it – and I doubt that anybody else has. It’s one of those books that you don’t realise how good it is until you’ve finished it. But then “finished” is the wrong word. You never really finish “His Dark Materials” – you merely stop reading. I stopped reading it two years ago and I’m still thinking about it.

I find it puzzling that the “religious right” have been too busy giving poor old Harry Potter a thrashing to take notice of this, which presents far more direct and controversial attacks on Christian beliefs. But then, the moral of the tale boils down to this: Live a good life. Learn as much as you can. Love as much as you can. Be the best person you can be. Surely even the most devout Christian can’t find a lot to quarrel with there?

There is very little that keeps me from placing this book at the top of my all time favourites. My only disappointment was the writing style, which I found rather bland. A little more lyrical flair and perhaps a touch more humour would have landed His Dark Materials a concrete ten out of ten. But when there is a whole universe of originality and imagination to discover, it hardly matters.
Nadine (18th Febraury 2007)

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