23 Nov 2017


A box set of three books, I've chosen to review each book separately. For the full synopsis of each of the books please click on its title.


SOURCE: Belonging to Mr T, they came off our shelves.

READ FOR ... Books 21 to 23 of 24 read for the Mount TBR 2017 Challenge as well as the What's In A Name 2017 ChallengeNorthern Lights for the book With A Compass Direction in the title category, The Subtle Knife for the book With An Item Of Cutlery in the title category which means I have now completed all six categories.

NORTHERN LIGHTS (Otherwise published as The Golden Compass).

Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
- First Sentence, Part One: Oxford, Chapter 1: The Decanter of Tokay

"Oh, this was the seventeenth century. Symbols and emblems were everywhere. Buildings and pictures were designed to be read like books.
- Memorable moment, page 173

MY THOUGHTS ... Ah! Where to begin?

Lacking any substantial characterisation. To me there was just something flat about about the characters, I guess for a book just short of 400 pages I expected more growth.

As for the world building ...

Oh dear! There were so many aspects of this story that didn't really seem to lead anywhere, at times it was almost as if any sense of direction, of purpose, was sacrificed to dramatic effect. But to me worst of all, too much of Pullman's world resonated with our own, making for what I thought of as lazy writing.

However, the main thing I took away from Northern Lights was a feeling of utter confusion - were the dæmons actually the character's inner voices of what was right and wrong and that was why they changed until the individual reached adulthood?  Was I missing something obvious? Was I was looking for something that wasn't there? I just didn't know.

Will tugged at his mother's hands and said, "Come on, come on ...'
- First Sentence, Chapter 1: The Cat and the Hornbeam Trees 

He saw a ring of silver and turquoise, a Navajo design, he saw it clearly and he recognized it as his mother's, he knew its weight and the smoothness of the stone and the way the silversmith had folded the metal over more closely at the corner where the stone was chipped, and he knew the chipped corner had worn smooth, because he had run his fingers over it many, many times, years and years ago in his boyhood in the sagelands of his native country.
- Memorable Moment, page 221 

MY THOUGHTS ... Hoping to come away with some answers. Alas as with Northern Lights I came away from this, the second instalment, with the same sense of confusion and NOW was also left wondering if the two main protagonists, Lyra and Will, are metaphors for Adam and Eve.     

I suppose I have at least come away from The Subtle Knife having finally vaguely invested in at least one of the characters (I kind of like Will), a distinct improvement from the last book.  

The world building however hasn't improved any. Gone are the 'gyptians', gone are the 'panserbjörne' - a trifle odd when so much time was devoted to them and their cultures in Northern Lights. Hey-ho! I suppose we now at least have gay angels, an interesting addition I thought.

Summed up ...

I think I may have stopped reading here if Mr T hadn't urged me to carry on, convincing me that all became clear in the third book, The Amber Spyglass.   

In a valley with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with melt-water splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves that clustered below.
- First Sentence, Chapter 1: The Enchanted Sleeper    

She was tall, naked, winged, and her lined face was older than any living creature Mrs Coulter had ever seen.
- Memorable Moment, Page 219        

MY THOUGHTS ... Having read the previous two books, Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife, and come away from both totally confused the thousand dollar question (shouldn't that be thousand pound question given that I'm here in the UK?) is ...

Do I now get the books?

In short, yes .... and no. Like the Narnia books with their Christian analogy, whilst I now get that these are their 'anti-religion counterpart', I do however think I may well have enjoyed all three that little bit more if I'd taken them at face value.

Whilst previously it was the world building (or lack there of) that I found particularly vexing. With The Amber Spyglass it was the characters, and in particular Lyra, that I found irksome. Never a character I took to to begin with, now 'grown up' I was hoping to see her go from strength to strength instead of which she (when actually conscious) became increasingly submissive to Will. Then there was Mrs Coulter ... bad, good, bad and so on, totally inconsistent, I lost track of the number of U-turns her character took. Oh and then there were the characters whose only purpose seemed to be to explain things before disappearing.

Taken together as a box-set, I'm glad I read all three 'books' one after the other and not just because not so memorable that events would not have been forgotten between readings BUT (and I'm still trying to get my own head around just what I mean by this) I'm not convinced that rather than treat as three individual books they should be treat as one.


Brian Joseph said...

I think that it is good that you wrapped these three books into one blog post. I often consider trilogies like this one single book.

Too bad that these books have so many shortcomings as It sounds like there are a lot of good underlying ideas here.

Nasreen said...

I have also come across many books with no character arcs and non-existent world-building. I wonder how the editor lets these books pass through their desks without getting the author to re-work on it.

Anonymous said...

After reading your honest
and heartfelt criticism
of the entire trilogy. I am
very uncertain about this.
But perhaps I would try the
first book.

Authors with Advice said...

Hi Tracy,

Thank you for posting your honest critic, hope these would help other writers struggling with plots or structures of their stories.

Melliane said...

I used to read and re read the trilogy when I was younger. I'm curious now about the new book

Kelly said...

These are books that I remember hearing much about when they first came out (under that original title for the first). They never really appealed to me and not just because of that "anti-Christian" idea (since Dan Brown's books got the same rap and I love The DaVinci Code), thought that might have played a part.

Based on your review(s), I don't think I really missed out on anything. There are far too many other books I want to read to worry about that.

Well done on completing What's In A Name and being so close to the summit on Mount TBR!

Suko said...

Thanks for your excellent, honest review, Tracy. I've read a few reviews of Philip Pullman's work, but I haven't read any of it yet.

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi Tracy,

I always enjoy reading your frank and honest reviews of the books you feature, although they are always tempered by the fact that you seek to find and share the positives in the overall story line and author writing style.

All that is particularly good and relevant in this case, as I am not a fan of fantasy writing and Philip Pullman would simply not be an author of choice for me.

I do agree that trilogies deserve to be read back to back to keep the story continuity going, however in a longer series, it always works better for me if the stories can be read as stand alones, as I have so many random books from different authors and series, that I could never hope to keep up with them all any other way.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I jope that you have started on something which is more engaging :)


DMS said...

I have not read the series- but I do remember seeing the movie for The Golden Compass. I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped and wondered if I might enjoy the book(s) better. Thanks for sharing your honest review!

Gina R said...

See, I enjoyed the first, though I was going to die reading the second, and was satisfied with the third. I agree though, they are better when taken at face value because the deeper you dive, the more confusing it gets.