Tv blabs, movie blabs, book blabs. Lots of blab, but no flab.

Wednesday, January 12

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.

4 viewers interjected with:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this series, but I do agree with you that it doesn't really fit into the normal kids genre. The last book especially turns very philosophical.
And I would love to have my own daemon.

13/1/05 8:39 pm

Blogger onanymous said...

Don't know how that happened.
That was me by the way.

14/1/05 1:39 am

Blogger Casyn said...

I'm about half way through The Subtle Knife now. It's bizzare. I don't quite understand what's going on with the Angels and the war, but the Lyra and Will story is quite good.

Having an actual exterior daemon would be rather cool! At least then I wouldn't have to talk to myself so much. Or at least it would be acceptable. :-)

17/1/05 12:43 am

Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I read The Dark Materials trilogy over Mr Cloud's shoulder (and in his wake). As he finished a section or a volume of the trilogy, I picked it up. I too have no idea who its intended audience is - but then again children have a knack of taking what they want from fiction and leaving what doesn't work for them (they often come back later and find what they missed first time is what hooks them the second time around).
Having said that, despite its adult appeal, there is much here for younger readers (though I would say probably over-10s rather than under-10s). Who doesn't want a daemon?! And, yes, keep your eye on the Lyra and Will story... it's an absolute treasure.

22/1/05 2:12 am


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