Review – Northern Lights (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman

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Hear ye, Hear ye…Henceforth, this book shall only be called Northern Lights and not by the Americanized title that makes this sound like a children’s book, The Golden Compass.

Because, are you listening, I believe this is a ‘children’s book’ only in that the main character is a child.

Lyra has been raised at a local college due to her parents’ death.  Her uncle comes occasionally to check on her but, for the most part, she is allowed to run freely.  When she witnesses an attempt on his life during one of his visits, it begins a journey that will take Lyra to the North where she is moving towards a destiny that everyone but her seems to know about.

First, let’s talk titles and covers for just a second.  I was never interested in reading this book when I saw it as The Golden Compass.  The cheesy cover of a girl riding a bear just didn’t appeal to me.  However, when I watched a Youtube video last year where a reader described this as her favorite series, I paid attention because I trusted her opinion.  And she held up a beautiful book named Northern Lights.  It was the 20th Anniversary Edition cover in the UK and showed a story full of fantasy and adventure.  So, what did I do?  I got right online and went to the Book Depository website to order all 3 books – UK covers and editions.  And, they are beautiful.  (Free worldwide shipping too if you didn’t know.  And, no, this isn’t a plug for them.  I just like to point out to readers that the UK covers are sometimes much more interesting, the prices are comparable to Amazon and free shipping.  What more could you want?)

Second, let’s address the category called ‘children’s books’.  If we consider that this description means that the content is suitable for most children then I can live with that.  However, too often, adult readers believe they have grown out of something that is also being read by children.  Why is that?  Many times we as adults have forgotten many of the important lessons we learned as children and if a book can remind us of a simple truth, we should embrace the opportunity.  As I mentioned, even if you want to categorize Northern Lights, it isn’t your typical middle grade or YA novel.  The story tackles abandonment, fear of those that are different than you, blind obsessions, kidnapping and mutilation, murder and other forms of death, and much, much more.  I’ve read reviews that say that this book is dangerous for children.  While I can see their viewpoint, I couldn’t disagree more.  As a parent, you need to know your child.  Depending on their age and maturity, trust that they can handle the subject matter.  But you should always read the book yourself so that you can be there for questions.  Because if you have a thoughtful child, there will be questions. I believe children who read books that push them outside of their boundaries grow into more well-rounded adults.

Lastly, Lyra.  Clever, brave, and loving Lyra.  At times it’s easy to forget that she is only 11 years old.  And, it is important to remember that fact.  Because although Northern Lights is written in 3rd person and the reader is privy to a few conversations and scenes that Lyra is not, it is still her story and she is an unreliable narrator.  Lyra, again an 11 year old girl, is not able to discern nuance in adult conversations and she certainly doesn’t know when she’s being lied to (and therefore we readers don’t either).  Children rush headlong into danger without realizing it.  They don’t yet have enough fear to protect themselves.  She trusts and makes friends easily like most children – and as an adult we know that can be dangerous.  Which means that we can foresee that she is going to get hurt (mentally or physically) but we are powerless to stop it or predict the angle of attack because, for the most part, we only know as much as Lyra. This is part of what makes this story brilliant.

Overall, I gave this 4/5 stars.  My only minor issue was that the world-building was a slow burn.  Not poorly done but probably could’ve been a little stronger in the first 50%.

4 thoughts on “Review – Northern Lights (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman

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