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Book Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

16th December, 2015

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Also known as The Golden Compass in the States, this is one amazing book of a world where the human soul resides outside the body as a ‘daemon’ (in the shape of an animal). It is the story of a young girl named, Lyra Belacqua, who journeys to the Northern Lights to fulfill a prophesy made ages ago. Northern Lights is the first in the trilogy His Dark Materials.


Northern Lights tells the story of Lyra Belacqua who lives in Jordan college, Oxford in a world very much like our own. The difference being that every person’s soul is a living animal companion or ‘daemon’ who accompanies him/her everywhere. How wonderful is that? You have a friend for life who knows all your thoughts and with whom you can talk about anything in the world.  The daemon can take any form until its human counterpart attains puberty, after which it becomes the animal it chooses to be. What more is needed to pique your interest in this one?

“We are all subject to the fates. But we must act as if we are not, or die of despair.”

Lyra is an orphan and leads a carefree life until she overhears a conversation about ‘Dust’. Intrigued by ‘Dust’ she wishes to know more about it. Her wish is about to come true when children (including Lyra’s playmate Roger) start disappearing and the exotic Mrs. Coulter arrives at Oxford to take Lyra away and to prune her into a fine lady. Together with her own daemon Pantalaimon, Lyra begins her journey to the Arctic, armed with an ‘alethiometer’ or a ‘truth-teller’ to find her friend Roger, kidnapped by the ‘Gobblers’ and to free Lord Asriel who has been imprisoned for conducting experiments on Dust who he believes holds the key to travel to parallel universes. On the way she meets the Gyptians, witches of the clan of Serafina Pekkala and an armoured polar bear, Iorek, who unite to help her towards the destiny she was prophesied to fulfill.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

There are a few instances where the book takes subtle pricks at the idea of God and theology and cloaks itself in an anti-church theme. A Magisterium controls the lives of people thus giving the Church’s rulers ultimate power. It decides truth and heresy by commanding the various sub agencies under it. This is a book that would appeal to both children and adults though I feel some ideas in it are better suited for adults. But the imaginative world that Pullman creates is spectacular without doubt.

“That’s the duty of the old,’ said the Librarian, ‘to be anxious on the behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.’

They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious.”

Dive into the pages and out spills memorable characters, elegant settings and periodical twists all wound in a dreamy style of writing. I loved this book. I saw the movie first, but the book is even more engaging and amazing. I read this last year and had to re-read it for the Christmas season. I couldn’t put it down until I devoured the whole of it, so I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy, or even to those who don’t.

This book is followed by The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass which chronicle the rest of Lyra’s journey.

Title : Northern Lights
Author : Philip Pullman
Publisher: Scholastic
Published : 2011 (First in 2005)
Language: English
Pages : 397
Rating : 5/5

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Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1)

About the Author

Philip Pullman is a British writer named by The Times as one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945”. His most well-known work is the trilogy His Dark Materials. Northern Lights won the 1995 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association and  was also named the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” in 2007. It has been adapted as a film under its U.S. title, The Golden Compass and also as a radio play, a stage play, an audiobook and a graphic novel. A BBC adaptation of the trilogy is soon to be aired.

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This Post Has 31 Comments
  1. Omg I ADORE your photos!! They are so so endlessly beautiful. Just wow! *flails over your talent* And I also only read this book for the first time last year! I LOVED IT. I listened to the dramatised audio and that was the best. decision. ever. It was basically just like watching a “movie” because it had voices and sound effects. hehe. I need to read the rest though!!
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

  2. This sounds incredibly interesting! I kind of always thought this was pure middle grade, which I don’t read at all, so I steered clear of this, especially after the Golden Compass movie, but oooh, sounds like quite the character bunch! Glad you enjoyed it so much, and haha wish I could as well but I kind of know I won’t. Wonderful review!

    1. Yes! The world Pullman creates is so magical that it appeals to both kids and adults. I read these last year and now I am re-reading them. In the trilogy the first book is my favourite. The fast paced writing is so good!!

  3. Utterly loved it this book and the series as a whole!
    Enjoyed the review, it took me back to a few things from when I first read this one – also I loved the little quotes you threw in there, gave me a chuckle.
    Don’t know if you’ve gotten to them yet but the sequels are also fantastic!

    1. Thank you for visiting. I love collecting quotes from books. They remind you in a nutshell what you enjoyed so much in the book. I have read the sequels too. The read was so engrossing that I had to buy the rest and see where the journey takes Lyra. Of the three books I love this one the best though. I am doing a re-reading for Christmas. And I am not really sure if I would read the third because it is my least favourite.

  4. Also, while it’s modified and a tad diluted, I think people give too much negativity to the movie, I enjoyed it for what it was and can still rewatch it happily – and wish they had made a sequell because some of the casting and the CGI (especially the Bears!) was excellent!

    1. I greatly enjoyed the movie. I was looking forward to the sequels too. Infact I saw the movie first and picked up the books later to see how Lyra fares in her mission. My favourite parts are the demons, especially Pantalaimon and Lord Asriel’s daemon Stelmaria, the snow leopard. That is seriously so cool. And yeah, I agree with you- the armoured polar bears and the war is absolutely wonderful to watch.

  5. I’m glad you liked this one! I bought it ages ago and read the first few pages, but I stopped because… to be honest I don’t remember, I think I just wasn’t in the mood for the writing style and always planned to pick it up again at a later date? The daemons sound extremely awesome though, and I’ll have to give it another chance!

    1. Oh! You definitely should. Maybe you might enjoy it the second time. One fact that drew me to the book was that there is very little suspense (at least for me), yet Pullman manages to capture your attention. Thanks for visiting. Sorry for the delay in replying. I was on vacation. 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful new year!

  6. This is one of those series that seems so beloved by all, but I haven’t yet read it. It seems like such a beautiful story though, so I think I definitely need to snag a copy for myself very soon!

    1. Pullman does have an engaging style of writing. So I think you would enjoy this one. Give it a try! If you like the first one, maybe you can move on to the rest of the series. Sorry for the delay in replying. I was on vacation. Happy new year to you. 🙂

  7. This book ( and also the others of the series) is pure magic. I reckon “His Dark Materials” is an alluring and perfect title for a fantasy series and every single time I went in a bookstore I stumble on these books. I agree with you when you say that this book will suits adults even more that kids because of the message it carries. One of my childhood favourite ^_^

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