Pullman (The Tin Princess, 1994, etc.) returns to the familiar territory of Victorian England, but this time inhabits an alternate Earth, where magic is an ordinary fact of life.
Lyra Belacqua and her daemon familiar Pantalaimon spend their days teasing the scholars of Jordan College until her uncle, Lord Asriel, announces that he's learned of astonishing events taking place in the far north involving the aurora borealis. When Lyra rescues Asriel from an attempt on his life, it is only the beginning of a torrent of events that finds Lyra willingly abducted by the velvet Mrs. Coulter, a missionary of pediatric atrocities; a journey with gyptian clansmen to rescue the children who are destined to be severed from their daemons (an act that is clearly hideous); and Lyra's discovery of her unusual powers and destiny. Lyra may suffer from excessive spunk, but she is thorough, intelligent, and charming. The author's care in recreating Victorian speech affectations never hinders the action; copious amounts of gore will not dissuade the squeamish, for resonating at the story's center is the twinkling image of a celestial city.
This first fantastic installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy propels readers along with horror and high adventure, a shattering tale that begins with a promise and delivers an entire universe. (Fiction. 12+)