The Golden Compass (Book # 1 in His Dark Materials Trilogy) by Philip Pullman

Image Courtesy of Goodreads

From Goodreads

Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however,nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

Cover Gushing Worthiness: I really like the cover of the Omnibus edition. I can’t say if it fully captures the spirit of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, but it does capture the beauty of The Golden Compass perfectly. The colour combinations are beautiful as well as the of the daemons.

Review: I first heard about The Golden Compass when I was in Grade 12. Some of my friends who were in the Gifted program at my school read the book in Grade 10 and loved it. Then when I was in  Grade 12 as part of our school’s Film Society we went and saw the movie. One of the main things my friends said was the movie didn’t explore the nitty-gritty/controversial elements which made the book so great. I wanted to read the book for myself and I wasn’t disappointed.

The story of The Golden Compass takes place in a world quite similar to ours, but with a few differences. For one, each person has a daemon in the shape of an animal who is a part of their soul/acts as a companion. The world in The Golden Compass also seems a bit steampunkish, at least that’s what I thought when I read the book. The story begins with Lyra witnessing a conversation between her uncle Lord Asriel and the scholars of Oxford about a substance called “Dust.” Then a series of events occur starting with the kidnapping of children; including Lyra’s friend Roger the kitchen boy, eventually leading Lyra on an expedition to find the missing children and on the way she encounters Gyptians, Witches, armored bears, an Aeronaut and the Gobblers.

Plot wise I enjoyed the story a great deal. While I read the book I could understand how it could be seen as controversial. However the way I saw it, Pullman was suggesting that all things should be questioned, including religion. Nothing should be followed blindly is the message I took away. I grew to love Lyra’s world and all the fantastical elements in it. The Alethiometer  was a unique instrument and I can’t wait to see how it’s going to play a bigger part in the next two books. Two elements I liked in this book in regards to the creatures of Lyra’s world were the witches and the armoured bears. I think the armoured bears was such a great concept and it’s one of the things the movie actually got right. The concept of daemons too is an interesting one and it made you wonder what kind of animal you’d like if you were to ever have a daemon.

I thought the pacing of the book  was well suited for the plot, but in my excitement I couldn’t help but wish the story moved a bit faster. It literally had me on the edge!I have two complaints about the story and they are 1) The ending: I found the ending to be a bit anti-climactic. It left me with a feeling of “Oh…that’s it? Seriously?! No angry out bursts? Really Lyra?.” However I’m going to assume that the next book will pick up where this one left off.  2) Is in regards to the explanation of what Dust actually is. When I was reading the explanation for Dust, I realized I was never a science student for a reason. It was quite a scientific explanation and there’s nothing wrong with that, it was just difficult for me to understand it.

Character wise, I thought all of them were great. Lyra was an awesome protagonist. She was feisty, loyal, independent and likable. I can’t say that there was a whole lot of character development on Lyra’s part because we got the idea that she was already a well rounded character as the book started. I do think Lyra’s character will grow more  in the next two books. Mrs. Coulter certainly came across as a black widow like character. She reminded me of the Snow Queen from the fairy tales for some reason. Her appearance or rather lack of action at the end of the book came as a surprise to me. I thought she would be more involved for some reason, but again I’m sure she’ll appear in the next two books at some point. I’m still not sure about my feelings towards Lord Asriel. I need to see more of him to form a coherent opinion of him. However I will say that he does come across as being quite cold hearted and distant.

For the remaining secondary characters; I liked all of them. I wish we got to know more about John Faa, the lord of the Gyptians and Serafina Pekkala, the witch. From all of the beings present in Pullman’s world I thought the witches were the most underdeveloped.  I did enjoy some of the tidbits of information that was given to the readers though. Iorek Brynison was quite possibly one of the most fantastic characters I’ve come across in literature. There was a quiet wisdom about him and whenever he spoke Ian McKellen’s voice would pop up in my head. It was probably because it was McKellen who did the voice for Iorek in the movie. Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon or Pan was such a sweet character. Pan’s protectiveness and inquisitiveness was a good balance for Lyra’s personality.

Overall I really enjoyed The Golden Compass. The book was a hundred times better than the movie. Even though I was disappointed in the ending and had difficulty understanding the concept of Dust, the world and the characters made up for that feeling inadequecy on my part and I cannot wait to read both The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

My Rating: 5/5

Would I recommend it? Absolutely


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  2. noirciplume

    I remember first reading this book when I was 13. The original title is called ‘Northern Lights’. I still don’t know why they renamed for Americans.

    I absolutely loved this book when I was younger. A great series. After reading them, you should read more of Philip Pullmen’s work, such as the Sally Lockhart series. Pullmen is definitely one of my favourite authors.

    Have fun!

    • Streetlight Reader

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting :). I did notice the change in the title. I couldn’t really understand why, but I do feel like “Northern Lights” is a better title. It suits the book much better. Thank you for recommending Philip Pullman’s other series! I hadn’t heard of it until you mentioned it, I will look into it for sure!

  3. Mary @ My Sisters Bookshelf

    Yay! I’m so glad you loved this one because this series is one of my favorites ever. Someday I will read Paradise Lost to truly understand it.

    Oh and the Sally Lockhart series is awesome except I refused to read the last book on principle (you’ll see because they really are very good!)

    The movie of this was soooo disappointing to me. I wanted them to make the whole trilogy for one thing – it came across as so weirdly cold?

    • Streetlight Reader

      I’m glad that I enjoyed the book too Mary! I’m going to have to read Paradise Lost again too. I didn’t enjoy it that much in University, but that’s probably because I was forced to read it. Ahaha I’m definitely going to have to check out the Sally Lockhart series now you’ve increased my curiosity about them!

      I see what you mean about the movie coming across as cold. I feel like the actors themselves were really detached if that makes any sense. My favourite part was when Iorek was introduced in the story and his battle with the bear king.

  4. lillianccc

    I’m so happy you reviewed this book, Savindi. My friend recommended it to me a while back but I didn’t quite get into it since it seemed like there was a lot of detail (plot-wise and description-wise) to get through. Seeing as how you enjoyed it so much, I think I’ll pick it up again and give it another go since I trust your judgment. 🙂

    • Streetlight Reader

      I’m happy I reviewed it too Lillian :). I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it but I’m so glad I did. It was a beautiful book. Funnily enough I read the book in two days. It moves at a steady pace and has you on the edge of your seat for the most part. Have you seen the movie? Because the movie is quite different from the book.

    • Streetlight Reader

      I’m so sorry for the late reply! Thank you for commenting 🙂 Ohhh I’m intrigued by all the controversy in the next two books now! I’ve been told it’s heartbreaking, which I’m sad about. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy the books!

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  6. James Kennedy

    Thank you, you’ve inspired me to put this again on my reading list.

    You can find out a lot about people by asking them what kind if daemon they would have. I would have a butterfly and a possum. What would you have?

    I tried to read this when I was 14 and only understood bits of it after meticulous re-reads (my reading comprehension level was awful back then). Books two and three threw me completely and I sort-of gave up reading and resorted to just moving my eyes over the words instead. Nothing sank in. When I’d finished doing that, I had no idea what happened in the story, except that there was a knife in the second book that could cut through literally anything. The rest was a [dyslexic] blur.

    They were great books, though, because no other books attracted me enough to even pretend to skim them. There much have been something magical about the Pullman trilogy, and I want to re-read it to find out what it was!

    Great review, thank you for posting. 🙂

    • Streetlight Reader

      Thank You for stopping by and commenting :). I’m so glad that you’ll be adding this book to your reading list! It truly was wonderful. As for what kind of daemon would I want to have….hmmm that’s such a tough one! But for now I’m going to say I’d have an Alaskan Malamute or a Lynx. I just love big animals as you can probably tell ;).

      I’m quite glad that I waited till I was older to read His Dark Materials. I don’t think I would have appreciated it when I was younger. I read the LOTR trilogy when I was about 12/13 and I wasn’t a big fan. I think if I read it now I would have a different opinion about it. I do hope you enjoy the books and maybe when you read you can give me a less scientific explanation for Dust :).

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