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Much has been made of Pullman's Dark Materials Trilogy. In 2005 it was voted the Cilip Awards best ever book(s). It is a critically acclaimed series, and the focus has come to the fore again with the emergence of 'The Golden Compass', the film adaption of 'Northern Lights', the first in the trilogy.
Upon starting the book, I was aware of the criticism of anti-religion Pullman has received for the trilogy. Howev er, this is a work of fiction, and this must not be read into too much. I found that, with letting go and just trusting the author, I found it an extremely good book. The theories are incredibly imaginative, as are the characters and the plot.
The book starts with the main character, a 12 year old girl named Lyra Belacqua, hiding in a room forbidden to her. What she overhears and sees then shapes the course of the book, as she embarks on a mission to save a load of children from 'Gobblers'. She lives in a world where everyone has a daemon, a creature that is essentially part of the person but existing in animal form. Daemons must accompany their human counterparts everywhere - this is one of the restrictions that Pullman has cleverly placed on an invisible link between human and daemon.
The adventurous Lord Asriel, Lyra's uncle, Mrs Coulter and her golden monkey daemon, her best friend Roger, aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the bear Iorek Byrnison are some of the characters she encounters on her adventures, which take her, as the title of the book would suggest, to Lapland, and the Northern Lights, where this chapter of the tale ends with an almighty finale that makes you hunt for the second in the trilogy, 'The Subtle Knife'.
This may seem rather vague, but I fear to reveal secrets in the book that I know I would have been annoyed by seeing in a review. It is a very good book, and I am now halfway through the third in the trilogy, and it just keeps getting better. Definitely a book to have on your shelf. And a word of advice: ignore any claims of heresy and blasphemy. This is fiction, and high quality imaginative fiction at that. Take this attitude with you in reading the book, and you will love it.