The New Black
Reading a single volume collection of three novels is tough on one’s wrists. I think I’ve strained something. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is the sum of the series that is Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass in a thousand page hardcover wrist-breaker brick.
Northern Lights introduces the alternate world of twelve-year-old Lyra. Her universe is a mix of modern and turn of the century technology. Where it is the Church that governs and academia is intrinsically linked to it. Every human has a daemon that takes the form of an animal and those who don’t are to be feared.
It is a well thought out and executed world. Pullman’s hometown is Oxford and his familiarity with the location is clear in his descriptions. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, are a ward of Jordan college and spend their days roaming the campus and waging war with other children.
Lyra’s journey is the usual moments of happenstance and long kept secrets. Pullman weaves an interesting story around this girl to keep one reading, but there are moments where I am pulled out of the story because somehow a gap in the prose has revealed the machines working the lights and scenery. I remember as a child writing stories and find myself falling into the simple trap of repeatedly writing “and then suddenly”. This is what called out to me in a couple of passages. The plot was lacking a character or an event, and then suddenly it was there.
I’m probably being too critical of what is a children’s book, but even there I am confused. This series is found in the 8 to 10 section of my local bookstore, and yet I am unsure of what the intended audience is. Lyra is essentially a child, thus sees the world in a child like manner, but the language is inconsistent. There are many ‘big’ words, and they are all within a context to be read and understood. The text appeared to be leaning between simple narrative and veering off into the didactic.
This is a vivid and colourful book. Lyra has an excellent wit and rebel streak that is likely to keep younger readers enthralled. As an adult (don’t laugh), I found the inconsistencies to be a distraction and the plot to be a little bumpy.
I am six chapters into The Subtle Knife and it is enjoyable thus far. Let’s hope my wrists hold out.