The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – book review

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman

Published: April 16th 1996

Length: 399 pages

Where I got it: Overdrive – ebook from my library

Why did I get it: It’s on my TBR Challenge and I’ve heard a lot about this book so I thought “Why not?”.

Summary from Goodreads:

Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however,nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

Damn. I really, really, really wanted to love this book. I want to tell everyone how amazing this first book of a trilogy is but I can’t. I can’t say I loved it. I can’t say I liked it either. I did enjoy parts of it and that is about as positive as I can get. With seeing some parts of the film before, I had the impression that this book was going to be a lot more magical than it actually was and I have to say that it was disappointing. I picked this book for my TBR Challenge because everyone knows/has read this book and I felt out of the loop. Right now, I don’t feel like I would have missed out on much.

The story follows a girl by the name of Lyra and her daemon companion as they try to figure out who is taking children from their town and what is happening to them. It was slow. And yes, yes, it’s the first book in a trilogy and there is a lot of world building that needs to happen and that tends to slow down the pace but it could have been done so much better. The world building itself, I didn’t find all that well done. I still had questions about the world and not in the good “this book kept me guessing all the way through” kind of way. It irritated me that I didn’t understand how some of the things that I was reading about worked to the point I thought some of the segues between events were absolute cop outs because there was no explanation for them. Because of all this, I can’t say that I found the world building fantastic.

However, I have to say that the main climax of the book was fantastic. It was fast. It was hectic. It was had me turning the pages with rapid velocity. It was that section of the book that gave me hope and made me think that sticking to this book wasn’t a complete waste of time. It was also one of the only parts of the book where I felt Lyra’s character was great and very interesting compared to how average she was the rest of the time.

Ending on a positive note, though, the of idea daemons was incredibly interesting. Daemons are companions to humans that take the form of some animal. Out of everything I’ve read in this book, these daemons and the lore behind them was the most fleshed out thing out of the whole book. I’ve read books with characters with bonds that deep before but it’s always so refreshing when a relationship is so meaningful and the relationship between Lyra and her daemon was just that.

Overall, I can’t say I enjoyed this book. I had to use all of my willpower to push through to the end and I doubt I’ll be picking up the rest of the books in this trilogy. It’s a shame, really, but I wouldn’t recommend it either.

Rating: [2/5]


5 thoughts on “The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – book review

  1. That’s a shame. I love this series so much that I just adopted a kitten and named her Lyra! I actually like that it doesn’t give all the answers away, which is why I don’t really consider it YA. It doesn’t hit you over the head with simplistic world building and forces you to think. The movie is absolute crap compared to Pullman’s masterpiece, that I try to forget it was ever made.


    • Ahh I can’t wait until I’m older and can have a bunch of pets named after my favourite characters! Lyra is such a pretty name :3 I’ve read plenty of fantastic YA books with incredible world building that is in no way simplistic. I’ve read YA books that also force you to think so I think it’s unfair to say that a book isn’t YA because it’s masterpiece because that’s implying that YA books have no depth and can’t be considered as good. I’ll have to watch the movie sometime soon but, as with any book to movie adaptation, my expectations aren’t high.


      • I certainly didn’t mean to imply that YA have no depth. I’m a huge fan of the genre. However, I feel that the subject matter of His Dark Materials is better suited for the adult fantasy section as an extremely anti-religious, modern retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. If people read that, I think they’ll appreciate Pullman more.


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