Book Review: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman and its subsequent books are one of the most famous series’ in fantasy literature. It features Lyra, a young girl who finds herself thrust into this larger-than-life journey that sees things she never knew even existed. Oh, and she has a pet Dæmon, Pantalaimon.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman book review

If you’ve never heard of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman then it’s now time to crawl from under that rock you’ve been living. Essentially it’s about a separate world from our own that features slightly different science and everybody has an animal called a Daemon which, when they become an adult, represents, metaphorically anyway, their personality. It’s a great concept that remains just close enough to own reality to not be too hard to understand. However, Philip Pullman does an incredible job of introducing you to just enough new ideas that it still feels magical.

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Plot – 4.5/5

The plot of Northern Lights – the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy – sees Lyra, a young girl lose her friend Roger and, with her dæmon, attempt to find him. Her quest ends up leading them to the north where they encounter armoured bears, witch queens who fly through the skies and some horrible and dark experiments.

I believe the reason these books have become cult classics is because of the way Pullman has written this incredible world. Despite those odd things I just described to you, never do you feel like anything in this book is out of the ordinary. The way these magical elements are implemented and the delivery of the plot means they just intertwine and flow wonderfully. I must admit though that this does very much feel like Pullman went in with the intention of making sequels.

Characters – 5/5

The characters are great. I loved Lyra – she’s a very defiant and stubborn young lady who is brave and wise far beyond her years and yet also harbours the innocence and naivety of the young girl she is. She’s a great protagonist whose companion, Pantalaimon acts as a slight comedic relief and wonderful friend throughout her travels. There are other characters you’ll come to love also – including a big armoured bear. 

The villains of this story are utterly brilliant also. Mrs Coulter is wonderfully wicked but definitely sometimes gives off the impression of someone who very much knows what she’s doing – not one of those villains who’s simply mean because they’re the villain.

Northern Lights summary – 5/5

I initially read this book a couple of years ago and I still remember loving the characters, loving the world and rather enjoying everything I read about too. Maybe because the plot feels unfinished (as I mentioned, it does feel a bit like it’s written readying for a sequel) I decided to mark it down, I’ve marked the plot section down just a tad. But other than that, I think this is a really well written and realised novel.

If you end up reading Northern Lights after reading this review, the BBC and HBO have created a TV Series that is rather good too (far better than the awful film) that currently encompasses the first and second books as a first and second series.

Anyway, loved Northern Lights and would probably recommend it to anyone of any age, not just the younger audience which it has slowly become known for.

Purchase your copy of Northern Lights here.

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