Ever since a young age I’ve loved to read and can often be found with my nose in a book and, more recently, a coffee in hand. My favourite stories have always been fantastical, and the intertwining universes of the His Dark Materials trilogy are as fantastical as they come. (Side note: plural of universe? Universes?)
I’ve done my very best to keep this review spoiler free. Although the first book has celebrated it’s twentieth birthday and was adapted in to a star-studded film which ultimately flopped (remember The Golden Compass?), it is my opinion everyone should read it at least once and I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone yet to experience it for the first time, because that feeling is the best.
The first of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights, is set within a parallel universe whereby people’s souls live externally from their bodies as animals. Each soul, known as their dæmon, takes a different species depending on the individual’s traits. The story centres on a young girl called Lyra Belacqua …
When Lyra’s friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him. The ensuring quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies – and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.
Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her – something with consequences, which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights.
Like many of the greats, each character within the series is detailed, motivated and serves a purpose to the narration and growth of the story in a beautiful way.
Lyra is an adventurous yet innocent rebel, making her the perfect protagonist and heroine for the story arc; humanity’s fight for the acquisition of knowledge and experiences from childhood to adulthood.
By The Subtle Knife, the second lead character is introduced; Will Parry is strong-willed, decisive, and mature beyond his twelve years as a young carer. Unlike Lyra, he is from our world.
Alongside armoured bears, witch-queens and a Texan aeronaut, he and Lyra embark on a quest, which impacts a myriad of universes.
The plot is complex. You’ll need your basic Bible knowledge of Adam and Eve’s Fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden. While the Church attempts to retain the blissful ignorance of childhood in the people opposition forces strive to ensure humanity’s right to knowledge and free will beyond the control of a higher authority. It can take quite a bit of brainpower to keep up with which characters are where at any one time. But once you get your head around it, the intertwining character arcs manage to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Through tackling themes such as religion, sex positivity, free will, the abolition of Destiny, friendship, courage and the coming of age, His Dark Materials weaves a fantastical story, which by the end has the potential to be plausible; at least with a stretch of the imagination. This potential plausibility is one of my favourite things. In my opinion, it is what captures people’s hearts and minds and enable the stories to live in us forever.
It’s fascinating that authors can lace concepts and characters in to enchanting stories, which can break your heart and build it all at once. This series is a prime example of storytelling at it’s finest.
If you enjoyed Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Harry Potter by J.K Rowling, or The Divide Trilogy by Elizabeth Kay then you’ll love His Dark Materials.