Title: Northern Lights | The Subtle Knife | The Amber Spyglass
Author: Philip Pullman
Series: His Dark Materials
Release Date: April 16th 1996 | July 22nd 1997 | October 10th 2000
His Dark Materials is an epic trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman consisting of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. It follows the coming of age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a series of parallel universes.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
In Northern Lights we meet Lyra, and as the series unfolds we follow her as she travels from Oxford in her own world, to the deserted city of Cittàgazze, to the Oxford in our world, and down to the world of the dead. Lyra has an important destiny, but it’s only by remaining unaware of said destiny that she will be able to fulfil it.
When her friend Roger goes missing, taken by the same people who have been stealing children from the streets of Oxford and vanishing without a trace, Lyra is determined to find him. She travels with the Gyptians to Svalbard, where she meets the exiled bear king and discovers the terrible truth behind what has been happening to the missing children, but it’s only due to Lord Asriel’s actions that Lyra is able to step foot in another world, where her journey really begins.
There’s plenty of adventure throughout the whole series. Lyra never seems to stand still, there’s always something else for her to reach towards, something to aim for. She’s a confident character and doesn’t seem to be scared of much at all, but she’s not overly confident either, and there are things that happen throughout the trilogy that shake her. There’s something about Lyra that seems to draw people towards her, and she manages to gain strong allies and protectors in the Gyptians, the witches and the rightful bear king Iorek Byrnison.
The side characters we meet throughout the trilogy all have their role to play in Lyra’s, and later Will’s, story. Iorek Byrnison was a favourite of mine, he’s a strong character with a very firm sense of honour who grows to love Lyra very quickly, becoming one of her fiercest protectors. The witches, led by Serafina Pekkala act as protectors and guides. They watch over Lyra and Will but don’t interfere in the path they are heading down, almost knowing how things need to play out before Lyra can fulfil her destiny.
In The Subtle Knife we meet Will Parry. He’s always tried really hard to be invisible, to go about unnoticed so he can stay under the radar and protect his ill mother. Will and Lyra both have different end games, but when they meet for the first time in Cittàgazze they realise they need one another. As Lyra moves forward, ever close to fulfilling her destiny, Will is there by her side with the subtle knife he fought for opening cuts to new worlds for them to escape into.
I loved the way the relationship between Will and Lyra developed. They’re both very headstrong characters, stubborn in their own ways, but where Lyra has the confidence to reach out and draw people to her Will is the opposite. He prefers to remain unnoticed and has a lot of practise at being invisible.
Will is a slightly darker character than Lyra, the things he’s seen and the things he’s lived through have made him older than his years. He knows there are cruel things that need to be done and he doesn’t shy away from doing them when necessary. The more time Lyra and Will spend with together, fighting for each other and protecting one another, the more their feelings grow and I thought it was an incredible development throughout the series.
Lyra’s parents, Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel, are very complicated characters. Both seem to be fighting on different sides of the war that is being waged; both have their own agendas that they need Lyra for and both don’t seem to care as much about their daughter as they do their own ends. However we get small glimpses of something more to each of their characters are Lyra; Lord Asriel when he sees his daughter at his doorway in Svalbard, and Mrs Coulter when she saves Lyra from the device that would sever her from her dæmon.
The world building throughout the series was incredible. I loved exploring all the different worlds Lyra and Will travelled through; there was something unique about each of them but they were all being effected by Lyra’s and Will’s journey. The only thing I couldn’t get my hands around at first was the concept of Dust. In Northern Lights we’re not given a lot of information on it, because it wasn’t something that was spoken about by the characters for fear of the Church, and it just left me confused. The idea is expanded on in The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass but if you asked me to explain Dust in detail I wouldn’t be able to.
The Subtle Knife:
The Amber Spyglass:
Overall I loved this series. I read the His Dark Materials trilogy for the first time when I was in high school, and picking it up again recently just reminded me how amazing Philip Pullman’s writing is. I was surprised by how much of the stories and Will’s and Lyra’s journeys I had actually forgotten, but the ending to The Amber Spyglass was just as heart-wrenching reading it for the second time as it was the first.
What did you think of the His Dark Materials trilogy? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.