The house was silent. I was completely alone, nestled on the couch with my book in my hands. In the stillness, the only noise was my deep breathing and the occasional turn of a page. I was fully immersed, my eyes flicking from word to word as fast as lightning. Oh, that beautiful exhilarating silence, so rare and so precious! The marvelous absence of words and—clunk. A pipe made a thumping sound somewhere in the house. I gasped and glanced up. And for one tiny, exhilarating moment, I thought I saw a brown cat walking up my arm.
Northern Lights, also known as The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman, is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. It tells the story of Lyra Belacqua, a cunning orphan who spends her days fighting with the urchins of Jordan College. Periodically, she receives visits from her uncle Lord Asriel, but the grim visits do nothing to stop her carefree life—until a beautiful woman hires her as a “personal assistant.” Accompanied by her dæmon Pantalaimon, Lyra soon finds herself befriending bears, consulting witches, and confronting unspeakable horrors.
Dæmons—physical extensions of the inner self—are a big part of Lyra’s world. A dæmon takes the shape of the animal that most represents your character—servants’ dæmons are often dogs (who are known for their loyalty). But a dæmon is much more than a pet. If a dæmon dies or is hurt, so is its human. Dæmons are lifelong companions, in Lyra’s world they are facing imminent extinction.
Iorek Byrnison, a rogue armoured bear, is my favorite character in Northern Lights. Armoured bears are bears of the North, masters of metalwork thanks to their delicate paw-fingers. They make armor for themselves and treasure it like humans treasure their dæmons. Iorek is noble, fierce, and powerful, but also intensely independent—so it is up to Lyra to risk her life to convince Iorek to join her on her mission.
Northern Lights is as delightful as a dæmon and as magnificent as an armoured bear. The next books (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) are just as superb. This story made me really think about that dæmon that I almost saw on my arm—maybe there’s a cat hiding inside of me . . .
Middle-grade fantasy, ages 11–14
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