Philip Pullman’s return to the world of the His Dark Materials trilogy again offers a cornucopia of ideas and vivid characters. Original heroine Lyra is here just a baby, but rumours of a prophecy concerning her future significance swirl around her and she faces several potential enemies. When a flood of biblical proportions devastates the country, she is rescued by young innkeeper’s son Malcolm and kitchen help Alice, who embark on a perilous search for safety in Malcolm’s canoe, La Belle Sauvage.
It begins like a spy story, as Malcolm finds a hidden message, witnesses troubling events and spies for a secret resistance group. Lurking in the background is the oppressive Magisterium, an extreme religious movement that infiltrates Malcolm’s school and encourages pupils to report on nonconformity in scenes reminiscent of Stalin’s Russia. An outwardly charismatic villain with a disturbing past and a grotesque daemon pursue Lyra across the waters in some seriously frightening encounters. Everything seems to be related to the mysterious “Dust”.
Physics, theology and fantasy all come into play as academia meets the gothic and classic adventure merges with primitive magic. The tone often considerably darkens, although there are also comedic moments. It will be enjoyed on different levels by young people and adults, although less mature readers may find themselves baffled at times. It seems very much part of a series rather than a complete story in itself, but will doubtless inspire new as well as former devotees.
Jackie Murrell is the librarian at Bromley High School
A big book, maybe bigger than you think
‘The language was more sophisticated than usual’
I really enjoyed this book with its complex, but understandable plot. It was interesting to see how Malcolm overcame challenges each time to continue on his adventure. All the characters were well developed and had different ways of enriching the story. My only criticism is the way in which it was written – the language used was a little more sophisticated than you’d usually find in books written for young adults. This could discourage some readers, and the book may need to be reread with care.
Francine, aged 14
‘Each page leads you deeper into the dark side’
This was a page-turning adventure, each page revealing more surprises, twists and turns. The characters were richly described and I had real empathy for Lyra. Alice became very strong and dependable, and I laughed at the way she undermined Malcolm’s baby-caring skills. Each chapter was a revelation. My favourite starts gently with Alice making bread, but each page leads you deeper into the dark side of those wishing to harm Lyra. I couldn’t put it down and found it exciting, and at times unexpected. I wasn’t ever sure who Malcolm could trust. I can’t wait for the next book!
Rachel Dobson, aged 13
‘Contains many genres knitted together’
I was slightly put off by its daunting size, thinking it would be one of those “long and boring” books, but from the word go, it gripped me and I couldn’t put it down. My favourite character has to be Malcolm. His simple life gets very complicated in a world where the dominating religion, politics and sciences are clashing. I related to him and could easily see the world through his eyes. The boy is clever, curious and quick on his feet. This book is for everyone as, despite being a fantasy, it contains many genres knitted together to make a one-of-a-kind experience.
Jahnavi Singh, aged 13
‘A secret inscription adds mystery and intrigue’
This beautifully written prequel captures the reader in a magnificent world of fantasy. I found myself falling in love with the characters, which added to the tension when they were in danger. There is a secret inscription on the spine, hidden under the sleeve of the book – a little detail that I was delighted to discover. The cover is embellished with golden specks on a black background and missing the actual title, which adds an aura of mystery and intrigue. It suggested to me that the book was about something much bigger than itself, but it was concealed, waiting to be discovered. I cannot wait for the next instalment.
Aria Sharma, aged 13
‘The strong language and sexual content disturbs’
Written in brilliant, descriptive language, avid readers could really lose themselves in the story. Malcolm is very engaging and credible. The book can be enjoyed on a surface level by children, but also on a much deeper level by adults or those who understand the higher-level language, and biblical and Nazi allusions. Although the book is written for children, I think that parents might be concerned with the strong language and sexual content, which I found unnecessary and a little disturbing. Overall, an excellent book, well written and a great story, but for older teens.
Bethany, aged 12
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