“People should decide on the books’ meanings for themselves. They’ll find a story that attacks such things as cruelty, oppression, intolerance, unkindness, narrow-mindedness, and celebrates love, kindness, open-mindedness, tolerance, curiosity, human intelligence.”
I’ve just finished reading The Book of Dust: Volume Two, The Secret Commonwealth but for those who haven’t read the prequels (His Dark Materials Trilogy or The Book of Dust: Volume One La Belle Sauvage), then I thought I’d give a brief review of both. Of course if you’ve already read them then feel free to skip ahead! No spoilers though!
His Dark Materials is a trilogy of three books – The Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights is set in Oxford, a world much like our own yet different in so many ways.
We meet Lyra Belacqua, brought to Jordan College by her uncle, Lord Asriel; she and her dæmon Pantalaimon grow up there with her best friend Roger.
Now to clarify, a Dæmon is a physical manifestation of a persons soul and takes the form of an animal and can speak and have human intelligence too. In the humans younger years, dæmons can alter their appearance and become any animal they choose. Once the human enters adolescence, their dæmon chooses a form which they then ‘settle’ in and can’t change from. When the human dies, the Dæmon also dies.
“You cannot change what you are, only what you do.”
Now back to our tale and three things happen which change the course of Lyra’s life forever.
- Lord Asriel returns from the North with new knowledge to share but despite seeing her uncle, Lyra has other motives regarding his visit.
- Her friend Roger disappears suddenly.
- Mrs Coulter, a female scholar, enters Lyra’s life but not everything is as it seems…
When Roger disappears, she realises that other gyptian children have also gone missing rather suddenly; there’s only one explanation: Gobblers. And it’s up to Lyra to go on a journey of self-discovery and find Roger and find out the motives of the Gobblers, who are they and what are they doing with these children.
Before she leaves she’s given a golden compass, an alethiometer, a golden device with 36 different symbols, to help tell the truth and Lyra must work out how to use it on her own without anyone else knowing she has it.
“Symbols and emblems were everywhere. Buildings and pictures were designed to be read like books. Everything stood for something else; if you had the right dictionary, you could read Nature itself. It was hardly surprising to find philosophers using the symbolism of their time to interpret knowledge that came from a mysterious source.”
Lyra takes a journey to the North where she not only encounters her uncle, but also an armoured bear who rules the ice and witch queens that rule the frozen night skies.
“And I’m going to that world beyond the Aurora,” he said, “because I think that’s where all the Dust in this universe comes from. You saw those slides I showed the Scholars in the retiring room. You saw Dust pouring into this world from the Aurora. You’ve seen that city yourself. If light can cross the barrier between the universes, if Dust can, if we can see that city, then we can build a bridge and cross. It needs a phenomenal burst of energy. But I can do it. Somewhere out there is the origin of all the Dust, all the death, the sin, the misery, the destructiveness in the world. Human beings can’t see anything without wanting to destroy it, Lyra. That’s original sin. And I’m going to destroy it. Death is going to die.”
The Subtle Knife
“It does not make sense. It cannot exist. It’s impossible, and if it isn’t impossible, it’s irrelevant, and if it isn’t either of those things, it’s embarrassing.”
The second book in this trilogy is set in a universe we will all recognise.
In this second instalment, Lyra finds herself in a haunted otherworld – Cittàgazze; where soul eating spectres haunt the streets but she is not alone. Not only she got her daemon Pantalaimon, but she has meets a new friend, Will.
“She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.“
He is fleeing for his life and by doing so, stumbled into this strange new world. On this journey from world to world Lyra and Will uncover an object with an extraordinary power and with every step they move closer to discovering their own destiny.
“The intentions of a tool are what it does. A hammer intends to strike, a vise intends to hold fast, a lever intends to lift. They are what it is made for. But sometimes a tool may have other uses that you don’t know. Sometimes in doing what you intend, you also do what the knife intends, without knowing.”
The Amber Spyglass
The Amber Spyglass, the third in the trilogy moves us between universes.
We begin this tale with Will being the keeper of the knife. Now accompanied by angels, he is commanded by his dying father to return the knife to Lord Asriel.
“And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone or that’s an evil one because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.”
But he has no Lyra. How can he find him without her? Only with her help will he be able to navigate the myriad of worlds.
“When you choose one way out of many, all the ways you don’t take are snuffed out like candles, as if they’d never existed. At the moment all Will’s choices existed at once. But to keep them all in existence meant doing nothing. He had to choose, after all.”
The two great powers of the many worlds are readying themselves for war and Will and Lyra, once they find each other, they must be prepared to go to battle.
“The Dust pouring down from the stars had found a living home again, and these children-no-longer-children, saturated with love, were the cause of it all.”
They will see things that will change them forever and even journey to the world of the dead, a journey that will bring great betrayal and an even bigger sacrifice.
“And thus the prophecy that the Master of Jordan College had made to the Librarian, that Lyra would make a great betrayal and it would hurt her terribly, was fulfilled.”
These books make up the His Dark Materials trilogy. But Lyra’s journey doesn’t end there as a new trilogy is on it’s way – The Book of Dust, La Belle Sauvage is the first. Keep an eye out for them in my upcoming reviews.
These books hold a beautiful and colourful world full of of magic and wonder. They also feature key subjects such as family, friends, loyalty and honour. I love them and would 100% recommend these to any book lover and would reread in a heartbeat (when my TBR list isn’t too long)!
“Without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all”
You can purchase these from Amazon!
Until next time,