Allowing myself to be turned off fantasy when I was ten years old was a big mistake. If I could take myself back to that point in my life, I'd make sure that I didn't find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe quite so scary, or else I'd make myself believe that being scared by a book is A Good Thing. Returning to fantasy over forty years later*, via books such as this one - the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy - has been a revelation. I've realised all over again just how much good children's literature has to offer to the adult reader.
It took me a little while to see where Pullman was going, but once I got there, I totally believed in the world he creates. Pullman deals with themes including religion, philosophy and free will as his young heroine, Lyra Belacqua, embarks on a quest to save her friend and take an important object to Lord Asriel, who is imprisoned in the frozen north. She travels with the nomadic Gyptians and encounters witches and armoured polar bears. I love that Lyra is not perfect. She is brave and loyal, but she has a temper, is not always truthful and gets things wrong. I also love the concept of the daemon - the soul of a human which exists as a separate but psychically connected being in animal form. Giving humans an external soul allows Pullman to very effectively explore the impact on human beings of emotional and psychological harm.
This work deals with big and complex themes. The plot is engaging and the characters are interesting. I listened to a "full cast" audiobook, narrated by the author. It's my first experience of an audiobook in this format and I thought that having different voices for the different characters might be distracting, but it was lots of fun: a bit like a radio play, only better. I didn't think I'd want to move straight on to the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, but I found myself so drawn into Lyra's world that I couldn't help myself.
*While I read to my kids when they were young, I avoided the fantasy novels. Their father was the one who read them books such as the Narnia Chronicles.