Publisher: Listening Library
Publishing Date: October 23 2003
Genre: Children, Fantasy
Format: Audio Book (unabridged)
When twelve year old Lyra’s friend Roger goes missing from Jordan College, she and her daemon Pantalaimon set out on a dizzying journey of gyptians (boat people), witches, armoured bears, child-snatchers, an aeronaut (yes it is as cool as it sounds) and religious conspiracies to rescue him. She crosses paths with many interesting people aided only by a ‘golden compass’ – a kind of truth-teller – and learns a lot about not only herself, but the world around her, and the nature of her alternate kind of steampunk-ish parallel world, to make her way to a city in the stars.
Northern Lights is hands down the best children’s book I have ever read. No, scrap that. It’s hands down the best book I have ever read. On the surface it’s the tale of a ragamuffin uncouth skilled liar and manipulator barbarian child from the rough and tumble streets of an alternate Oxford, where every person’s soul lives in the form of an animal companion called a daemon. This in itself sounds awesome enough, but when you team this concept with Pullman’s master storytelling abilities, it outshines just about every other piece of literature there is. Pullman’s strength lays in his ability to make you care, and it’s not mean feat. Every single scrap of worldbuilding directly relates back to his brave, caring, passionate twelve year old protagonist. This makes the detail and the description worth it, and anything that seems superfluous actually adds to the reality of the tale (the different types of fur used in the far north, for example, all have different uses).
Lyra is a heroine to die for. She is an amazing child – spoiled, in the way that she’s never had to work or learn or really had a hard life at all, even though she believes she’s an orphan being raised by stuffy scholars from the college. She’s bright, quick, and imaginative. She’s not a Mary-Sue by any stretch of the imagination – yes, she’s a special child, born to a prophesy and loved by many other characters (of which she earns their love), but she’s also a persistent liar and willing to take massive, dreadful risks for the safety and well-being of those she loves. I also have an insane amount of love for Pantaliamon, Lyra’s constant shape-changing companion, although he doesn’t say much. His actions and dedication to Lyra clearly show that he’s a character to be admired.
The actress portraying Lyra in this audiobook, Joanna Wyatt (also the voice of Angelina Ballerina), injects so much emotion and feeling into Lyra that on more than one occasion I nearly burst into tears driving home. The only thing that stopped me was the idea of a police officer pulling me over and being unable to explain that an audiobook was making me blubber like a baby. I also want to give a shout out to the voice actress playing Mrs Coulter, who acted so sweet and hid such dark, dastardly deeds behind her youth and beauty. Similarly, Pullman’s narration is clear and enunciated, and his voice inflects the appropriate amount of emotion into each scene.
This book is not necessarily action-packed or a fast read, but it is chock-a-block full of sheer awesomeness and has so many layers that reading after reading (if you dare to re-read) you will still be unfolding the meanings and deciphering the messages in the text, taking it level by level much like Lyra reading her ‘golden compass’ (alethiometer). Is something necessarily bad because someone else tells us so? Is it better to feel all the pain of growing up than grow up cut off from everything? When should authorities be questioned?
I have read this book every few years since publication and it’s one of my firm favourites. The ending, however, is not for the faint-hearted. (Hint – it’s different to the 2007 film version.)