His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials

Title: Northern Lights | The Subtle Knife | The Amber Spyglass

Author: Philip Pullman

Series: His Dark Materials

Publisher: Scholastic

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

“So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.”
– Northern Lights

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 is a curious prophecy about this child: she is destined to bring about the end of destiny. But she must do so without knowing what she is doing, as if it were her nature and not her destiny to do it. If she’s told what she must do, it will all fail.”
– Northern Lights

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.

“She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once.”
– The Subtle Knife

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 will love you forever; whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again…”
– The Amber Spyglass

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.

“He dared to do what men and women don’t even dare to think. And look what he’s done already: he’s torn open the sky, he’s opened the way to another world. Who else has ever done that? Who else could think of it?”
– The Subtle Knife

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.

“If a coin comes down heads, that means that the possibility of its coming down tails has collapsed. Until that moment the two possibilities were equal.
But on another world, it does come down tails. And when that happens, the two worlds split apart.”
– Northern Lights

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.

Northern Lights:

Four Stars

The Subtle Knife:

Five Stars

The Amber Spyglass:

Five Stars

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.

37 thoughts on “His Dark Materials

  1. I read HDM when I was in primary school and then again when I was fifteen. The second time was quite a different experience as the rather heavy-handed anti-religious moralising went over my head as a kid, but was quite noticeable the second time. Now that I’m 22, I’ve been thinking I might be overdue for a reread, to see how I get on with it these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I was definitely overdue for a reread of this series. The first and only time I read HDM was when I was fourteen so there was a lot I’d forgotten and I guess a lot I picked up on more the second time around as well.
      I feel like this is one of those series you always find something to love about, no matter how many times you’ve re-read it. 🙂


  2. Well crafted characters placed in a detailed world with a sprinkling of fantasy and a plot that keeps you intrigued are sometimes difficult to find. When you do you hope that the book is part of a trilogy at the least. The Dark Materials series is expertly crafted. Although supposedly aimed at a younger audience it’s suitable for all. I initially read is as background research for writing a children’s novel with the intention of only reading the first one and got hooked on reading all three. If you want to read a book that again is aimed at children but should and I believe is read by a wider readership then I would suggest “The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket”
    by John Boyne. Enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His Dark Materials is just…amazing. Like you said there are well crafted characters, detailed world building and a brilliant plot and finding all three of those things in one trilogy is kind of exceptional, especially to the degree Philip Pullman has them in his writing.
      It’s aimed for younger readers sure, but I’m in my late twenties now and I still fell in love with the story and the characters, so it just goes to show you don’t need to be the intended audience to fall in love with a book.
      Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll definitely keep it in mind. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I got this entire series as a Christmas gift when I was younger (11 maybe?) – and I LOVED THEM! The world building in this series is so amazing and breath taking, it’s easy to get lost! and I Loved the character developments, both between each character and individually as well. Lyra definitely comes a long way from the girl she was at the beginning of the series to the girl she is at the end. I definitely need to re read these sometime soon and pick up the new edition to the series as well!
    Great review 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read this series because my friend recommended it and loved it and I knew I had to pick them up myself (she rarely recommends books so when she does you know they’re good).
      Definitely easy to get lost in these books, and the character development was masterfully done too. It was only kind of looking back that I really realised how much Lyra had changed and developed throughout the trilogy.
      I’d highly recommend re-reading these books Lauren, they’re just as brilliant now as they were when I read them back then. 🙂 ❤


    1. They were pretty much non stop, but I loved that about them so not complaining at all. I feel like Will and Lyra were my first OTP ever, and I definitely appreciated Mrs Coulter and Asriel more the second time reading this series than I did the first.
      Thanks so much! 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s amazing Lu, I really enjoyed these books the first time I picked them up and reading them again this time around brought back so many fond memories I have. 🙂
      I would say read The Book of Dust first and then these books (La Belle Sauvage can kind of act as a prologue to the trilogy just because it features Lyra as a baby).
      Thanks so much! 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for posting this, for many reasons. I love these books and I read them around 2013 or so. I was left with the same ending thoughts as you (on Dust). Pullman has long talked about publishing The Book of Dust, but he set off the deadline so many times I stopped looking it up to see when it would come out.

    Now I read your post, and low-and-behold, its a trilogy and the first book came out last year! I had no idea. So apparently it explains Dust a lot more. Wikipedia link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Dust

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s all right, oh yeah this is a brilliant series. I can’t remember the exact year I first read these books but I reckon I probably understood Dust better this time around than when I first picked up the series part way through high school. Yeah my friend kind of lost hope as well, but now we’re getting another trilogy so even better right? 😀
      I actually think I remember reading that the third book in The Book of Dust series actually goes into the subject of Dust much more, so that’ll help I reckon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember completely loving the movie when it came out, but for some reason I never realised that there were books when I was a kid. The fascination vanished a tiny bit by now, but reading how much you enjoyed the series as a whole really had me tempted to pick it up someday. At least that way I would get to find out what happens next hahaha (still sad they didn’t continue the movies …)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember being a little let down by the movie (after all what book to film adaptation is perfect) but they’re making His Dark Materials into a TV series so I can’t wait for that! 🙂 Oh that’s good to hear, and I hope you do end up picking up these books on day Kat, they’re the kind of stories you can enjoy at any age and honestly Philip Pullman is an amazing writer as well. 🙂
      Ha, well here’s hoping the TV series gets a little further then. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this series so, so much, even if it has been years since I read it, I still hold it very close to my heart. There is something about this world, the characters and their relationships, everything, that just… well, I don’t know how or why, but I love it so, so much. And The Amber Spyglass just broke my heart, really. I hope to re-read this soon! 😀 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a brilliant series, honestly I’d kind of forgotten just how brilliant it is and how much I loved it until I picked it up recently. The first time I read these books was when I was halfway through high school and I just wish I’d discovered them sooner you know? Philip Pullman is an amazing writer and I know the next volume in The Book of Dust series is going to be something special for sure.
      The ending to The Amber Spyglass is one thing I remembered really clearly, and just as heartbreaking reading it again as well. I hope you get around to this series soon Marie! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really got into this series! I hated the end at the time but now I see that it was right for the world and the characters. But boy was I upset back then, lol. ❤ Great series review Beth! This is such a great series to highlight! I really hope other people pick it up if they haven't read it. I love the daemons idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly even this time around I hated the ending. After everything they went through I just wanted them to have that ‘happily ever after’ ending. But you’re right it was the right ending for the series I think, just heartbreaking. 🙂
      Thanks so much Dani, I hope so too. I heard they’re doing a His Dark Materials TV series, so hopefully that will convince more people to pick it up as well. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s never too late to pick up a series though. 🙂 I didn’t read this when I was really young (I picked it up for the first time halfway through high school) so I get what you mean.
      Reading The Book of Dust just gave me the excuse to re-read this series and I’m glad I did. It’s amazing so I’m sure you’ll love it too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read the trilogy purely as research for writing my own children’s novel Barney Bradshaw. Never just select books in one genre or your own age group or you will miss out on so much good reading. I’ve not read Dust yet but it’s on my list.

        Liked by 1 person

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