You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Golden Compass

I had heard good things about Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass so I finally picked up an audiobook version at the library. The audiobook is narrated by the author and a cast of voice actors who create an entertaining performance.

The story takes place in a fantastic alternate reality that is a sort of steampunk setting. Every human in this world has a talking animal as a daemon, a sort of familiar who is part of the person's soul. The children's daemon's can change form but at puberty they settle on a single form. Lyra is an eleven-year-old girl living at Jordan College at Oxford. Her uncle, Lord Asriel, is a scientist and explorer who has returned from the north to bring news of the Northern Lights and Dust, a special particle with magical properties. The people are talking about what the kids call the Gobblers, people who have been stealing children away. Lyra becomes upset when her friend Roger is taken by the Gobblers.

Lyra's life change when Lord Asriel leaves and she meets a woman named Mrs. Coulter. Lyra is enamored of Mrs. Coulter's sophistication and elegance and soon goes to live with her as her assistant and student. Before she moves in with Mrs. Coulter the Master of Jordan College secretly gives her an alethiometer, the golden compass of the title. Lyra comes to understand that the device is a sort of truth teller that she must figure out how to use. When she discovers that Mrs. Coulter is head of the General Oblation Board (the Gobblers) the makes an escape. She ends up with with the Gyptians, poor boat people who have been watching over her. Lyra tells the Gyptians what she knows and they decide to make an expedition to the arctic north to try to find their lost children, and Lyra insists on coming along.

Lyra's adventures lead her to Iorek Byrnison, an armored bear who has been tricked out of his armor. Lyra uses the golden compass to find out where his armor is and he gets it back. Iorek pledges to support Lyra and the Gyptians in their quest. They also get the help of an aeronaut and some witches. Lyra learns about Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter and the Gobblers; she learns about Dust and the Magisterium. It becomes clear that there is a lot going on in the world.

The story is expansive and detailed. Pullman does such a great job describing the daemons that I was truly horrified when Lyra discovered a boy who had had his daemon separated. The reader feels the pain along with the characters. The theme of a young person going on a journey and discovering his or her identity is a common one, but Pullman does a great job with the execution. There are twists in the story and some people are not as they appear. Lyra finds a sort of foster father in Iorek, who turns out not as wild and erratic as claimed at first.

The story deals with the powers of science and magic, and people seeking to control science and knowledge. The action is exciting and the characters are intriguing. I didn't find as much anti-religion rhetoric in the book as I expected given the talk about it, but there is talk toward the end about Dust and original sin. Pullman is clearly setting the stage for more interesting plot developments in the sequels. A


Post a Comment

<< Home