The Amber Spyglass

by Philip Pullman

There are books that you can read while laying flat on a mattress, and there are books you have to sit up to read. The Amber Spyglass, the final installment in the His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the latter. Despite the fact that I was nursing the cold that wouldn’t die while reading it, I was completely upright, reading about Lyra and Will, and their final journey through the world of the dead, and back to their own separate universes, finding love, and maturity, along the way.

Is it wrong of me to wish that my Zorro-dog was really a daemon like Pantalaimon, not for the shape-changing feature (which goes away once you reach a certain level of maturity anyway) but for the ability to communicate? As I was reading about Lyra and Pan I was often distracted by their relationship, wishing I could explain to Zorro why he’s taking all these pills.

Even so, it was a satisfying end to the story, and I’m probably going to pick up Lyra’s Oxford as well.

The Subtle Knife

by Philip Pullman

If reading fantasy novels that made you think counted as using exercise equipment I would be incredibly buff, because this week, I finished The Subtle Knife, the second novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy that opened with The Golden Compass.

In this installment of Lyra’s story, which opens in “our” version of Earth rather than hers, we meet young Will Parry, son of a missing adventurer and a mother who has clearly had a grief-induced nervous breakdown. Will accidentally finds a doorway to another world, which just happens to be the same world Lyra arrives on following the end of the first book. They eventually join forces, helped along the way by Lee Scoresby, Iorek Byrneson (the armored bear king), witches, angels, and human scientists, as they must also outwit not only Lyra’s mother (Mrs. Coulter) but her father the previously-assumed-to-be-a-white-hat Lord Asriel.

While this is very much a middle novel, setting up relationships and feeding us information to prepare us for book three (which I also finished this week), it was still a satisfying read. Lyra and Will both develop from precocious kids into complex characters, and learn to use their innate skills (like lying and storytelling, or the art of not being noticed) to help their cause.

There is, of course, much talk about Dust, or elementary particles, of Shadows and Spectres and Angels, but it is in no way smarmy or pandering. These books may technically be targeted to young adults, but there’s a reason they’re found in the general sci fi/fantasy section of most bookstores.

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights)

by Philip Pullman

I chose to read this book without quite knowing what it was. I’d heard of the series His Dark Materials but somehow thought they were about another boy wizard, and not a curious young girl. I was attracted to the UK title Northern Lights but didn’t really connect that it was one and the same with The Golden Compass. I like the UK title better, by the way, as it’s more accurate and more mysterious.

In any case, it was the movie that made me want to read the books. Oh, I know, the movie’s not out yet, but I’ve seen the trailer, and it looks fantastic.

And so I sat down with the first book and got to know Philip Pullman’s characters, especially spunky Lyra, and his alternative history with great air ships (dirigibles, essentially), and daemon spirit guides, and talking bears, and such. It’s such a richly created world, and the writing is amazing – all the scenes in the arctic felt cold to me, and I kept wishing it wasn’t 90 degrees outside so I could justify sipping hot cocoa while I read.

And now I’m hooked, but I promised myself I wouldn’t read books two and three until I’d finished the rest of my stack.