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Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however,nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.
Cover Gushing Worthiness: I really like the cover of the Omnibus edition. I can’t say if it fully captures the spirit of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, but it does capture the beauty of The Golden Compass perfectly. The colour combinations are beautiful as well as the of the daemons.
Review: I first heard about The Golden Compass when I was in Grade 12. Some of my friends who were in the Gifted program at my school read the book in Grade 10 and loved it. Then when I was in Grade 12 as part of our school’s Film Society we went and saw the movie. One of the main things my friends said was the movie didn’t explore the nitty-gritty/controversial elements which made the book so great. I wanted to read the book for myself and I wasn’t disappointed.
The story of The Golden Compass takes place in a world quite similar to ours, but with a few differences. For one, each person has a daemon in the shape of an animal who is a part of their soul/acts as a companion. The world in The Golden Compass also seems a bit steampunkish, at least that’s what I thought when I read the book. The story begins with Lyra witnessing a conversation between her uncle Lord Asriel and the scholars of Oxford about a substance called “Dust.” Then a series of events occur starting with the kidnapping of children; including Lyra’s friend Roger the kitchen boy, eventually leading Lyra on an expedition to find the missing children and on the way she encounters Gyptians, Witches, armored bears, an Aeronaut and the Gobblers.
Plot wise I enjoyed the story a great deal. While I read the book I could understand how it could be seen as controversial. However the way I saw it, Pullman was suggesting that all things should be questioned, including religion. Nothing should be followed blindly is the message I took away. I grew to love Lyra’s world and all the fantastical elements in it. The Alethiometer was a unique instrument and I can’t wait to see how it’s going to play a bigger part in the next two books. Two elements I liked in this book in regards to the creatures of Lyra’s world were the witches and the armoured bears. I think the armoured bears was such a great concept and it’s one of the things the movie actually got right. The concept of daemons too is an interesting one and it made you wonder what kind of animal you’d like if you were to ever have a daemon.
I thought the pacing of the book was well suited for the plot, but in my excitement I couldn’t help but wish the story moved a bit faster. It literally had me on the edge!I have two complaints about the story and they are 1) The ending: I found the ending to be a bit anti-climactic. It left me with a feeling of “Oh…that’s it? Seriously?! No angry out bursts? Really Lyra?.” However I’m going to assume that the next book will pick up where this one left off. 2) Is in regards to the explanation of what Dust actually is. When I was reading the explanation for Dust, I realized I was never a science student for a reason. It was quite a scientific explanation and there’s nothing wrong with that, it was just difficult for me to understand it.
Character wise, I thought all of them were great. Lyra was an awesome protagonist. She was feisty, loyal, independent and likable. I can’t say that there was a whole lot of character development on Lyra’s part because we got the idea that she was already a well rounded character as the book started. I do think Lyra’s character will grow more in the next two books. Mrs. Coulter certainly came across as a black widow like character. She reminded me of the Snow Queen from the fairy tales for some reason. Her appearance or rather lack of action at the end of the book came as a surprise to me. I thought she would be more involved for some reason, but again I’m sure she’ll appear in the next two books at some point. I’m still not sure about my feelings towards Lord Asriel. I need to see more of him to form a coherent opinion of him. However I will say that he does come across as being quite cold hearted and distant.
For the remaining secondary characters; I liked all of them. I wish we got to know more about John Faa, the lord of the Gyptians and Serafina Pekkala, the witch. From all of the beings present in Pullman’s world I thought the witches were the most underdeveloped. I did enjoy some of the tidbits of information that was given to the readers though. Iorek Brynison was quite possibly one of the most fantastic characters I’ve come across in literature. There was a quiet wisdom about him and whenever he spoke Ian McKellen’s voice would pop up in my head. It was probably because it was McKellen who did the voice for Iorek in the movie. Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon or Pan was such a sweet character. Pan’s protectiveness and inquisitiveness was a good balance for Lyra’s personality.
Overall I really enjoyed The Golden Compass. The book was a hundred times better than the movie. Even though I was disappointed in the ending and had difficulty understanding the concept of Dust, the world and the characters made up for that feeling inadequecy on my part and I cannot wait to read both The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
My Rating: 5/5
Would I recommend it? Absolutely