Northern Lights (#1) by Philip Pullman

Published:  23rd October 1998Goodreads badge
Scholastic Point
Pages: 399
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

When Lyra’s friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him.

The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where 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…

Northern Lights is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy and it introduces us to Lyra, her dæmon Pantalaimalon, and her world, similar to our own but so different at the same time. In Lyra’s universe people have dæmons, kind of like animal spirits that are a representation of their true self, their soul. The story is a retelling of sorts but with so much more depth and complexity is reads almost as new story. Granted this becomes much more evident in later books, but Northern Lights is a starting point to the greater story being told. In this first book Lyra heads North to rescue her friend Roger and other children that have been kidnapped for terrible experiments, and in doing so is introduced to something much bigger than she ever could imagine. This book leads onto the others and from captivating beginnings drags you deep into the world of Dust, other worlds, and destiny.

Away from the other two books, Northern Lights is a wonderful story on its own. Pullman brings this parallel universe to life absolutely magnificently, and in a world so foreign yet so familiar it is easy to accept Lyra’s world as being possible. What is wonderful about it as well is that it doesn’t read as an introduction book, we join Lyra in the middle of a moment and pick up the rest of the world as we go along, slowly gaining a picture of the world and its people, joining together snippets of information and details as the story goes on.

What is fantastic about Pullman is that he does little obvious explaining for the reader. There are hardly any, if at all, long explanations and expositions that are there for the reader’s understanding. Everything we need to know can be worked out from details and information provided in the narrative, and any explanations that are there have been woven meticulously through the story and provided through Lyra or other characters, and always keeping with the natural flow of the narrative. But Pullman is such a masterful writer that even when things aren’t explained it is easy to comprehend and to gain an understanding about the various levels and elements about the world.

Pullman writes with style and elegance, and with huge ideas, but the story is told so simply, with such passion, that it is easy to lose yourself in the story and imagine yourself beside Lyra as she explores Oxford or travels North. It is easy to become invested in these characters, you fear for them, rejoice with them, and worry for them all at once. From the first to last page you can picture everything that is happening: Lyra hiding in the wardrobe with Pan, armoured bears fighting for a kingdom, and golden monkey’s luring unsuspecting children.

Even with such exquisite description, Pullman also limits the details for his characters. Simple descriptions for many of his characters allow readers to create their own visions, and instead Pullman brings their complexity to life through their character, their personality and their actions. While general physical descriptions are important and still there, a greater understanding of who a character is is much more common. This is where the dæmons play a wonderful role; they help to understand who a character is as well as what they are feeling. While Lyra stands tall and bravely walks into danger, Pan is a mouse in her pocket, or a leopard to show the confidence she is trying to have.

What astounds me most about Northern Lights really is how simple it sounds as a plot, but when you read it, and get into the heart of the narrative it becomes quite clear just how complicated the story truly is, and yet Pullman writes it like it is the simplest thing in the world. It really is a masterpiece.

There is a mixture of light heartedness, danger, magic and mysteries, as well as heartbreak and horror in this book. Despite dealing with things that seem so foreign and incomprehensible, Pullman makes you understand and makes you invest in the characters so that every joyful time or moment of sadness is like your own.

This truly is a phenomenal story; it is one that will stay with you long after you have finished, and not only from wonderment, but also from admiration of the world and story Pullman has developed and more importantly, the intense envy that you too can’t have your own dæmon.

You can purchase Northern Lights via the following

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Depository | Booktopia

Bookworld | QBD

Dymocks | Kobo

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. allvce
    Jul 12, 2015 @ 10:44:16

    I promise one day I will read this book! I have never really known much about it reading these posts of yours is really making me curious!



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