Northern Lights Review

Northern Lights

4.25 / 5

Imaginative, tantalising and spell-binding.

We delve into Pullman’s fantastical world of armoured bears, witches, dæmons and Dust, through Lyra’s incredible journey that could change the world as they know it.    

In a universe parallel to our own, the Magisterium/Church dominates this world as a theocratic international organisation, suppressing any heretical views that deviate from those preached by the Church. In this world, humans have dæmons, which is where a human’s soul naturally exists; dæmons are animals that have the ability to instantaneously change their appearance into another animal. However, after reaching puberty, a human’s dæmon settles permanently into one animal form. Dæmons constantly accompany, help and comfort their human and they are unable to be too far apart from each other.

The adventure begins when Lyra secretly listens to a lecture given by Lord Asriel at Jordan College, Oxford, which he gives to the Scholars of the university. Here is when Lyra learns about “Dust”, a name given to mysteriously behaving particles that are for some reason attracted to humans that have reached puberty more than children. Lyra’s interest is sparked by Asriel’s Artic exploration, who reveals groundbreaking images of a city in the skyline of an Aurora in the North, suggesting that there are parallel universes that can be viewed and accessed through the Northern Lights. With this meeting, it starts a fascinating journey for Lyra as she and Pantalaimon, her dæmon, travel to London, Gyptian canals and finally the North.

Before leaving with the beautiful, beguiling and seemingly lovely Mrs Coulter to be her assistant, she is given an alethiometer by the Master of Jordan with a warning concerning Mrs Coulter. The alethiometer is a special and rare compass which has 4 hands and it tells the truth to any possible question that is asked, with each hand pointing to a different layer of meaning of answer to the question asked. Initially, Lyra is unable to fathom to what it does, but gradually through her journey North she becomes accomplished and a natural symbol-reader. One of her personal reasons for journeying to the North was to rescue her friend Roger. Roger was presumably taken by a gang called the Gobblers, which Lyra later realised meant the General Oblation Board, headed by Mrs Coulter. An organisation that takes children North for presumed terrible reasons as none have come back. Lyra escapes a party that Mrs Coulter organised and she finds herself in the company of the Gyptians, who then travel Northwards to save the children.


There are various sub-plots that work their way seamlessly into the bigger picture and main central theme of the book. One of these sub-plots is that of Iorek Byrnison, an armoured bear who had wrongly been exiled by the Svalbard kingdom of bears, and is on a path of redemption. Iorek’s character is involved in a string of exciting events which leaves the book glued to your hands as the intense and thrilling action drives the story on and closer to its conclusion. This book gradually became more exciting and action packed, especially in the final part called Svalbard. There are a plethora of characters that were very interesting and I hope they return in the future books, especially; Iorek and Lee Scoresby.

It was a great book and having heard glowing reports on it by friends and family along with it being a critically acclaimed novel, I read it with high hopes and this book met them superbly. The Subtle Knife is definitely on my list of books to read, and though I had planned to read quite a few books before I decided to continue reading Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, but the cliffhanger that the story was left on so tantalisingly, has reshuffled my thinking. Expect to see a review of Subtle Knife relatively soon!

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