If you are the kind of reader who enjoys a book with big themes to ponder over, all set within an enthralling quest for Good against Evil, then you might like to try this book.
Lyra lives in a society where experimental theology is regarded as the true science, and this seems quite natural in a world where everyone's soul is separate and visible. For every individual shares the journey of his life with a daemon, an animal form which stays close and shares all intimate thoughts and which by its very appearance can reflect the most subtle state of mind. Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon enjoy a carefree existence as an orphan under the haphazard care of Jordan College in Oxford. There she plays with her friend Roger the kitchen boy, running wild in the College grounds, up on the roofs and down in the crypt.
But a morbid fear lurks in Lyra's skewed society. Children are disappearing, seduced somehow from the slums, vulnerable children who are unlikely to be missed. No one knows what happens to them for they are never heard of again, taken by the Gobblers. When the Gobblers strike in Oxford their appearance coincides with that of the strangely compelling Mrs Coulter who distracts Lyra from the alarming loss of Roger. Lyra begins to fear that Mrs Coulter is responsible for the abduction of the children and she determines to uncover the truth behind the Gobblers and what goes on at the Experimental Station in the remote north. There may also be a chance to rescue Roger.
In the ensuing quest Lyra discovers that she is perfectly poised in this battle of Good against Evil, being especially significant to both sides by reason of her birth. And the Witches of the North hint at her fulfillment of a prophecy.
The basic storyline in this book is simple enough, reminiscent of the Snow Queen where Gerda goes in search of her friend Kay whose heart has been pierced by a shard of mirror and who has fallen under the spell of the evil Queen. But there are some challenging themes to wrestle with. Is the human soul separate from the human body? Does the soul die when the body dies? Can we commit a sin if we do not have a soul? Can we be rescued from the burden of original sin?
Don't be alarmed if none of these big questions springs to your mind when you read about Lyra's adventures. This book is very much one of those where it depends on what ears you are listening with. I found myself preoccupied with the underlying theological ideas but you might just as easily find yourself wondering about the possibility of parallel universes or the more down-to-earth business of travel in an arctic wonderland. And what a terrific landscape this book is set in!
Caira, girl, age 16, from Cambridge, United Kingdom, on 10th September 2008. Rating: 9/10
Wow. It has so so much packed all into one book! It was so fantastic, such a lot of good ideas and the world really needs more books like it. other stories don't have any extra layers to them, but it does which makes this a book for older readers as well as young, and i loved that. And for some reason i never read the other two even tho i could because when I was looking at the sublte knife it just didn't seem as thorough and visual as this one. i can imagine so much they could put into the film (but it was very bad). and now that i have read les miserables i think that actually there is something in there that might have inspired part of this. not the parts about religion, but there;s a line about animals being the visible phantoms of our human emotions... it also mentions asrael the angel of death... that was quite an interesting thing to find out!
xanthe*, girl, age 15, from cambridge, United Kingdom, on 30th June 2008. Rating: 10/10
yes. this definitely reminded me of the snow queen but also it's a LOT MORE than that! this is so much to fit into one little book i couldn't put it down when i was reading it and couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks. for some reason i decided not to read the other books because i thought it could stand on its own. now that's kind of weird because it's completely open-ended but i know what happens later and i just thought i like lyra better when she had the whole book to herself. sorry about that whoever loves will. but i think i like pan the best. it's such an interesting idea about their daemons and so well developed. i loved how she reacted to the severed child and also her idea how to trick iofur because it shows how intricate daemons are related to their society. the only thing i don't get is when she could hear lord asriel's daemon talking. but really this is a thrilling book, even if you don't get all the inside meaning and allusion it is a brilliant fantasy and i couldn't stop reading it. though you have to get into it in the beginning or you may want to stop, it starts kind of slow. but beyond that, it gets really exciting and fastpaced. plus i've always kind of had that feeling about the north that lyra had, so i knew i was going to like her and her story... it's very well done. much better than any of the shorter books by phillip pullman. i loved it.
Mairead, girl, age 13, from cork, Ireland, on 17th July 2007. Rating: 10/10
I love this book so much, it's so powerful, adventurous, and lovely! i love the idea of daemons, it's so cool and so symbolic. the end is so sad but it really makes you want to read the next book and the part of the fight was so suspenseful. i was almost scared reading it! it's a very deep though provoking book, i don't think it would have been very good for me to read when i was eleven so even though lyra is eleven it's really for older readers.
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This book is the first one of a trilogy. You must read them in order:
If you fancy a bit of a break before you look at The Subtle Knife, you might enjoy this time travel fantasy sequence by William Mayne:
Or this shorter story by Susan Price:
Also David Almond might catch your imagination: