So I was thinking that 1995 wasn’t much of a throwback until I realised that this was 20 years ago and I’m clearly older than I think! It’s strange to reflect that this, as the first book in a trilogy I adore, is a book I would never have read had it not been for my lovely friend Vanessa Cannon who added it to a huge stack of books she lent me to get through the long non-drinking nights of being pregnant. It stood out to me as soon as I went through the pile and it was the first that I read and i’m glad she packed the whole trilogy for me!
Set in a parallel reality, where souls live live outside the body in an animal form known as Daemons. We meet 12 year old Lyra Belacqua, a college student and niece of the explorer Lord Asriel. When Lord Asriel attends to college to seek funding for his expedition to find out more about “dust”, she smuggles herself into that meeting and learns much more than she was meant to. Around this time a number of children are found to be going missing and the mysterious “gobblers” are to blame. Armed with an Alethiometer, a kind of future telling compass, which was awarded to her by a college master, she goes in search of her friend who was taken. Her journey, which leads her to the arctic, means she must escape the clutches of the sinister Mrs Coulter and hide within the Gyptians who help her on her quest – as they too have those they have lost and are seeking to find. At her destination, she finds out the horrifying reason that the Gobblers are taking children, discovers her uncle has been exiled and that Dust is a more potent and powerful substance than she could have ever imagined.
This is a story that is rich with intrigue and has genuinely fearful moments, Mrs Coulter’s monkey daemon will forever be a terrifying entity. My biggest love in this book however is Iorek Byrnison, the King of the armoured bears, for their armour is their soul as daemons are to humans. I don’t know why, maybe I just love the names the bears have but he is my favourite character by far. It is a true traveller’s tale, with many lively characters and the subtle weave of a backstory beginning to show it’s face. It’s also a story of the sacrifices we make to not only search for and save those we love or want to help, but also the sacrifices to others for the sake of the success of ideas, no matter the cost.
The magic was almost destroyed for me when I watched the film version, The Golden Compass – anyone else think that Daniel Craig was a horrible casting choice for Lord Asriel??