Lyra and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. That is until she embarks on a dangerous journey to the frozen North in search of a kidnapped friend. Little does she know that this sets the destiny in motion that has awaited her since birth. Her adventure leads her to talking bears, flying witches and eventually the northern lights, where she might learn more about the mysterious Dust that worries the adults.
I was almost old enough to read Northern Lights when it was first published in 1995, so it’s a shame really that so many years had to pass before I picked up this children’s classic. In my defense, I tried to read it ten years ago around the time that The Golden Compass – which is the US title of the first volume in the His Dark Materials series – movie came out, but couldn’t get into it. Looking back now, I can’t possibly remember why, as there is so much to love about this book.
For starters, Northern Lights has one of the best opening scenes of the children’s books I’ve read so far. Philip Pullman drops you right in the middle of the action, explains nothing and builds up tension and mystery. If he does throw the reader a few crumbs of information, they are rather vague and difficult to understand. Despite it being marketed as a middle grade book, I expect some themes of the series to be lost on young readers. Northern Lights is one of those books that could benefit from a reread a few years down the road.