I waited to write this review for a few reasons. First, I wanted to finish the trilogy. This review is about the three books of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The version presented by audible.com is read by the author, and performed by a full cast, and sucks you into Lyra’s world (and Will’s, and others). Second, I wanted to wait until I had time to digest the three books, and I think I have digested enough to let my opinions out.
Let me start by saying that these books made me want to drive to work. They were like a treat in themselves, and I had to force myself to not just go driving just so I could listen. The acting is well-done, the voices are consistent with each other, and the narration was excellent.
Philip Pullman, in addition to being an intriguing author, is an excellent narrator. His voice is deep and you get the feeling that it could be booming if he wanted. The pace of the narration was not too slow, not too fast. He did-n’t pro-nounce ev-e-ry syl-la-ble dis-tinct-ly like some author/narrators. His English accent wasn’t distracting from the story, and was very easy to listen to without getting lost.
The Philosophy of the His Dark Materials trilogy is not for everyone. The Church (specifically the Catholic Church) is not presented in a very good light. There is a fight between the angels of the Authority and a faction of humans, angels, and other beings led by Lord Asriel, and there is discussion of the afterlife being a place where you wait – forever – and are tormented by Harpies.
Right now, the Wikipedia Entry for Philip Pullman includes the phrase “He is a bastard who has an agenda to get kids to turn against organized religion.” Here is the edit that did it, if it’s been deleted (which it probably will be, as Wikipedia is able to be edited by anyone
While yes, the books are anti-organized-religion, and have a more humanist stance on religion and belief and thought, they are more food for thought than an outright plea to change one’s faith. If someone is so malleable that a book about a little girl, some armored bears, and zeppelin aeronauts shakes their faith, there was already a crack in that foundation.
I took it as an enjoyable adventure starring a little girl and her friends, and the philosophy didn’t bother me. I enjoy learning more about what other people think is going on with the supernatural, and believe that the worlds presented in books doesn’t have to have any relation to the world we live in.
The story was a grand adventure, and included armored bears, witches, flying machines, gypsies, specters, and multiple parallel worlds. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon chase around the world and have some lovely and some terrible things happen to them, and while Lyra means well, she sometimes does the wrong thing. At the end of The Golden Compass, she takes off with Lord Asriel to another world, and you’re left hoping she’ll be ok.
The Subtle Knife introduces Will Parry, who becomes the bearer of a knife that can cut through the barrier that separates the multiple worlds. He finds Lyra in a world different from his, and she is upset that he doesn’t have a daemon, as everyone on her world has one — it’s kind of like a visualization of the subconscious in animal form, and gives a clue to who someone really is. They spend the whole book moving from world to world, trying to figure out the mystery of Dust, or Dark Matter, or Shadows, as the scientists in Will’s world (ostensibly our world) call it. The two meet Mary Malone, an ex-nun who has devoted her life to studying Shadows.
The Amber Spyglass is where Mary Malone becomes more three-dimensional. She finds her way to a world filled with strange beings called mulefa, who are non-human-shaped intelligent beings. She studies their ways, learns more about Dust, and comes to be a translator when other humans find their way to the mulefa’s world. The big battle which has been alluded to in the first two books comes to pass, and it’s engaging and bloody without being exceptionally specific. The battle pulls you in, and holds your attention in the same way the rest of the books do. The fighting isn’t detailed enough to recreate it with a forensic computer program, but brings you to the edge of the fighting, to the dust, the smoke, the smells of battle. At the end of the book, there are revelations, and there is a bittersweetness to it all, which is an excellent way to end the journey. Although there is another book in the works, this works well as a trilogy, and the ending is an excellent place to stop.
I enjoyed the trilogy, and the philosophy didn’t bother me, nor did the painful descriptions of things that happened, but if you’re very religious and easily offended, you may want to give this trilogy a pass. To enjoy this story, you may have to separate yourself from this reality and simply tell yourself that it’s another reality that lives in the books. Which, given the writing style, and the style of the audio books, isn’t a hard thing to do.