Book review: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

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Confession time: I’m pretty sure I’ve had this book since I was in high school. Maybe even middle school. A long time, regardless. It was a gift, and I’m so, so, so sorry that it took me at least ten years to read it.

I read it for two reasons:
1) I’m doing this personal challenge where I “kill” my TBR pile by reading at least three books per month that I’ve had for over a year.
2) It’s Banned Books Week and I know this book has been challenged many times for its supposed atheist message, or whatever.

Anyway, I was really pleasantly surprised, because after a rather slow start, it got really exciting! I did watch the movie when it came out years ago, but I remembered almost nothing of the plot, except that I thought there was some kind of animal following Lyra around, and there was something about a polar bear.

So, anyway…

Lyra Belacqua, a young orphan, lives with the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College. She doesn’t much like it there, since there are few people her own age to play with, and her lessons are half-hearted and dry. One day, her uncle, Lord Asriel, shows up talking about Dust, and the North, and a bunch of people Lyra has never heard of before. Lyra is intrigued by this mysterious Dust, and even more intrigued when nobody will bother explaining it to her.

Shortly after, the beautiful and charming Mrs. Coulter shows up, offering Lyra an opportunity to be her assistant and travel around the world with her. Lyra, who has never had consistent attention in her life, jumps at the chance. It’s not long, though, before Lyra realizes that something is off with Mrs. Coulter, and she may be connected to mass kidnappings in the area.

With the help of her daemon, an armored bear, and some unexpected allies, Lyra must fight her way out of Mrs. Coulter’s grasp, rescue her imprisoned uncle, and save the kidnapped children from horrific experiments.

So, all the time I was reading this book, I had one thought running through my head – “I can’t believe this is for kids.” This book is so intense! It has horrific and terrifying scenes! I mean, maybe it’s like that scene in Toy Story 3, where the toys almost get shredded and they’re preparing to die, and I was basically sobbing on the edge of my seat. Maybe kids interpret it differently. Also, I’m really sensitive and emotional, like all the time. Especially when it comes to stuff with animals, but I legit almost cried when Lyra finds out what the Gobblers actually do.

But, since I was reading this book for Banned Books Week, I do feel like it’s necessary to point out that I still liked the book, despite my strong emotional response, and I in no way think it should be pulled from library shelves.

Let me get on to the things I really liked:

1) Lyra. What a spunky kid. She never gets discouraged, never gives up, never thinks she can’t do something because of her age or her gender or her status. She finds something that needs to be done and she does it. Just like that. This is such a great thing for kids to read about. It was inspiring to me, and I’m 25!

2) The daemons. I would love to have my own daemon! Of course, I really love animals, but the thought that an animal can be a physical representation of your soul, actually linked to you, with a deep emotional connection was just so great. When it was revealed that the Gobblers were experimenting to find a way to separate people from their daemons (not a spoiler – it’s in the blurb), I cuddled my cat because it was like I could actually feel Lyra’s daemon being torn away from her.

3) I loved how the plot just twists and turns and never slows down. Think you have it figured out? You don’t. Think Lyra’s finally safe? She’s not. Think you know who the good guys and bad guys are? Nope. Think again.

4) I loved the alethiometer/symbol reader/lie detector. Lyra is the only one who can read it, and even though she’s a “just a little girl,” as some might say, she understands the importance of it and doesn’t let anybody else take it away from her. The alethiometer helps her through a number of tricky situations and turns out to be an invaluable asset.

This book was such a pleasant surprise, and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

 

Final rating: ★★★★☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #33: a book from your childhood.