This one is awkward to review because really it’s three books and my feelings for each one are different. Yet, I love this series so much it appeals to so many different sides of my nature and it is expertly written. Set in an alternative universe were humans souls manifest themselves as a daemon in animal form, in Northern Lights a young girl called Lyra sets out to save her friend from ‘the gobblers’ but she ends up wrapped up in a whole load more trouble than she expected. The story picks up again in The Subtle Knife with a boy called Will who lives in our universe. When some strangers break into his house Will has to go on the run and he finds a perfect hiding place; a window to another world. Here he meets Lyra and they go onto to battle celestial powers in the final book The Amber Spyglass.
I love the atmosphere of Northern Lights, The Golden Compass in the US, the Arctic north and historic Oxford make such an excellent setting for adventure. The twists and turns and the glamorous but evil Mrs Coulter are so absorbing that I just kept reading. It reminded me in tone of The Thief Lord and Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke in a way I can’t explain; I think they just induced the same feeling in me, a good feeling. I also loved the alternative technology and the physics! I shall get onto this in more detail.
When the story moves in The Subtle Knife it loses the tone and as a result the feeling I love but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it any less. What also changes in The Subtle Knife is that it suddenly becomes much more intellectual. A lot of the plot resolves around theoretical physics and it gets rather confusing. I love physics, I wanted to be an engineer before chronic illness sent me on a different course so I could keep up pretty well with all the metaphysical stuff but I have no idea how children or teenagers would and this is supposedly a YA book. The other think that I learnt after finishing this book is that it is a re-imagining of Paradise Lost something I am not familiar with and I doubt many people my age and younger would be.
Which leads me onto The Amber Spyglass where everything gets pretty heavy. Full scale battles, people trapped in the land of the dead, a scientist who joins a clan of elephantine creatures, original sin and quite a lot of death. Besides all the adventures and dangers this series is also a Bildungsroman; a coming of age story. The Amber Spyglass captures perfectly the loss of innocence, even before the pivotal moment of temptation the reader can feel the shift in Lyra and in Will and it is a joy to watch them grow. As children they had to overcome and deal with so much and you feel them develop with ever challenge until you look back and realise that they aren’t children any more; you just wait for them to realise it.
There is a reason this book is No.3, why it won awards and has captured the imaginations of so many. It is a children’s book that is unmistakeably adult and my only wish is that it kept that magic of childhood a bit longer because that is what makes Northern Lights spectacular and the other two a good read.
Would recommend to: read Northern Lights as a child and the other as an adult.