Anyone read this series of three books (with a side-story called "Lyra's Oxford" and a planned sequel called "The Book of Dust")? If not I strongly suggest you give it a read.
The first book, "Northern Lights" (retitled to "The Golden Compass" in North America) features Lyra Belacqua, a street-wise young girl who lives as a ward of Jordan College in Oxford, England. Her constant companion, Pantalaimon, is a strange creature with the ability to take the shape of any animal he chooses. In Lyra's world, everyone is accompanied by a dæmon, a sort of physical extension of their souls. Dæmons can't stray far from their "owners", and adults' dæmons can't change shape and are always fixed in a form that best represents their humans. Servants' dæmons are usually dogs, showing that their humans are obedient and happy to take orders. To think of a human without a dæmon in Lyra's world would be to think of a human without a face in ours. It's an inextricable part of that person. Lyra's Pantalaimon seems to represent her wiser and more cautious side, as he (often unsuccessfully) tries to keep her out of trouble.
Such is the case when Lyra accidentally stumbles upon a plot by the Master of Jordan to murder her uncle, the Lord Asriel, who is visiting Jordan College seeking funding to mount a scientific expidition to the Arctic. Despite Pantalaimon's best efforts to convince Lyra to keep out of things that don't concern her, she foils the scheme and her uncle successfully gets the grant he needs to begin his trek north. Shortly thereafter, she meets the stunningly beautiful Mrs. Coulter and is asked if she would like to live with her and help her in her unspecified "work".
Lyra is enchanted by Mrs. Coulter and happily agrees to leave Jordan for London, but the night before she leaves the Master meets with her in secret and gives her a remarkable relic, a golden compass-like device called an alethiometer. Around the outside of the object, where the numbers would be on a clock dial, instead there are 36 symbols such as the Sun, the Alpha and Omega, the Hourglass, the Anchor, the Angel... Each of these symbols has levels and levels of meanings, and in the hands of an expert the alethiometer can be asked any question and can accurately foretell the future.
And thus, Lyra slowly learns to use the alethiometer. However, there's a great deal of turmoil in the world and all is not what it appears. In Lyra's world, the Catholic Church is the dominant political power, with influence and intrigues spanning the globe. In addition to this, children all over England have begun to disappear.
Somehow, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel are tied into these great events, and though she doesn't know it Lyra is as well. She's caught up in the greatest adventure of all time. Her actions have the potential to rock the foundations of Heaven and Earth and will decide the fate of mankind for eternity. On her journey, she'll meet fascinating characters like Iorek Byrnison, an armored polar bear who's as intelligent as a human but thinks nothing like a human; Lord Faa, king of the water-faring gyptian people; Serafina Pekkala, a witch of the Arctic who rides the sky on a branch of pine and who is as unlike a normal human as Iorek; and Lee Scoresby, a hot-air balloon pilot from the great nation of Texas.
If that's not enough to convince you to read these amazing books, the second in the series, "The Subtle Knife", picks up the pace. In it, we meet Will Parry, a boy from our Earth who's as normal and unremarkable as anyone but whose destiny will drag him into the brewing war. He and Lyra will travel across worlds, always staying just out of reach of all the powers who are after them. Will's fate will place him in a central role in this war alongside Lyra, and together the decisions they make could bring ruin or salvation to all intelligent life across uncounted realities.
And then in the third book, the Amber Spyglass, our world and Lyra's world and all the other universes will collide in a final battle and a spine-chilling, jaw-dropping climax.
Please, if you love books then do yourself a favour and get this series. It's so hard to talk about these amazing works without getting into spoilers, so I've really had to work to limit myself to what can be read on the dust-jacket. It is very rare that I read a book or a series that leaves me thirsty for more of the same, but Phillip Pullman's masterful understanding of human motivation and his artful writing style have left me with that feeling. Fortunately for me, the books have become so popular that film-scripts are currently being drafted and New Line Cinemas is hard at work getting ready to start production on the first film in the planned trilogy. Yep, New Line, the same folks who adapted J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy for cinemas.
The best part is that, despite all the fantasy flavour, these books are based upon very real scientific principles. Chances are good that you'll come out of these books with a much better understanding of quantum physics than you started with. So no matter whether you prefer fantasy or hard science, this series will delight you.
Trust me on this, get these books. You will NOT regret it.
Edited, Wed Nov 17 17:21:45 2004 by Saboruto