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Review by Mike
The Golden Compass, which is the first part of a trilogy called His Dark Materials, is labelled young adult (YA) fantasy. This only proves how little publishers know really. Sure, it is a story of a girl about twelve years old, who encounters strange adventures in a world that has a certain "magical" touch. But reading this book is also an exercise in history, theology and physics. Being interested in history and fairly well educated in physics made me fall for it quickly. But let's do this step by step.
The geography of this world is exactly the same as our own, but the political map is very different. Very few things are explained in detail, but it is obvious that some historical events of little significance over here, turned out to be very important over there (and the other way around o/c). For example, and here ole' Mike becomes patriotic *g*, a Viking voyage to a new country which only survived as a strange tale in our world, turned out to be the discovery of America (500 years before Columbus) in Lyra's world, thus changing the fate of that continent. No United States of America exists, only independent countries.
The single most important difference is the role of the religious forces. A large part of the world is ultimately ruled by The Church, and everything that we would regard as science (like physics, chemistry etc.) is just another sub-discipline of theology. This means that the freedom to choose which direction to take, that researchers in our world is used to, does not exist, and The Church judges every new discovery Ė is it good or is it evil?
There are other differences as well. Every person seems to have a strange companion in the shape of an animal called ďdaimonĒ, creatures that they are linked to in a way nobody really understands. And then there are intelligent animals, witches, powerful objects etc, giving some of the usual, medieval fantasy feeling. Yet they have nuclear power plants and other stuff thatís definitely twentieth century to us, creating a powerful mixture of modern and ancient. All in all, Pullman has managed to create a fascinating world.
Lyra is the one and only main character in this story. Other persons play important parts, but itís all seen through her eyes. Her situation reminds me a bit of young Garion in The Belgariad - growing up without parents, then being drawn into strange adventures without realising how important you are. However, Lyra and all the other characters are not as roughly sketched as those in The Belgariad. My favourite is probably Iorek Byrnison, an intelligent polar bear that has been cast out from his people.
Ö is definitely not like The Belgariad at all! There you could tell what was going on after twenty pages or so, here I was not sure even after reading the last page. Pullman delivers little hints every now and then, and it is obvious that there is a purpose behind everything, but I could never figure out what it is, or which side is good and which is evil. All very nicely done I must say.
Well, if you made it this far you realise that I liked this book a lot. It may or may not be YA, but itís definitely something that even old-timers like me can enjoy. Iím going to award it with four very powerful amulets. Thanks for recommending it, Alle!
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