Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reviews From an HBN (His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman)

So, I believe this brings our count up to five from the BBC's list of one hundred...and to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reviewing this either.

The Golden Compass

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.

The Subtle Knife

   Here is the highly anticipated second installment of Philip Pullman's epic fantasy trilogy, begun with the critically acclaimed The Golden Compass. Lyra and Will, her newfound friend, tumble separately into the strange tropical otherworld of Cittàgazze, "the city of magpies," where adults are curiously absent and children run wild. Here their lives become inextricably entwined when Lyra's alethiometer gives her a simple command: find Will's father. Their search is plagued with obstacles--some familiar and some horribly new and unfathomable--but it eventually brings them closer to Will's father and to the Subtle Knife, a deadly, magical, ancient tool that cuts windows between worlds. Through it all, Will and Lyra find themselves hurtling toward the center of a fierce battle against a force so awesome that leagues of mortals, witches, beasts, and spirits from every world are uniting in fear and anger against it. This breathtaking sequel will leave readers eager for the third and final volume of His Dark Materials.

The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass brings the intrigue of The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife to a heartstopping close, marking the third and final volume as the most powerful of the trilogy. Along with the return of Lyra, Will, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, Dr. Mary Malone, and Iorek Byrnison the armored bear, The Amber Spyglass introduces a host of new characters: the Mulefa, mysterious wheeled creatures with the power to see Dust; Gallivespian Lord Roke, a hand-high spy-master to Lord Asriel; and Metatron, a fierce and mighty angel. And this final volume brings startling revelations, too: the painful price Lyra must pay to walk through the land of the dead, the haunting power of Dr. Malone's amber spyglass, and the names of who will live—and who will die—for love. And all the while, war rages with the Kingdom of Heaven, a brutal battle that—in its shocking outcome—will reveal the secret of Dust.

Let me start by saying that I came to this series with an earful of praise, calling it fantastically awesome, and a bit of skepticism considering I'd heard it was a bit anti-Christian. I kept an open mind and remained aware of any and all possibilities.

I was let down on all counts.

Mr. Pullman recreated Milton's Paradise Lost with his trilogy, and...well...he could have done better. There's nothing worse than a writer with an agenda, after all, and while he was so busy downing Christianity he let his story go down the drain. Compass started slow, but I made allowances for that. It seemed like a complex plot at the time, and he was trying to establish it. I won't excuse his sequence of events, however. He left off on a helluva cliff hanger, but the showdown at Svalbard occurring after the battle at Bolvangar was anti-climatic and ridiculous--and between all that, we had to sit through I don't know how many pages of Lord Asriel's monologue about how the Church is bad and medieval and holds back progress and we should revolt! Revolt, he says! Lyra remains a tough one for me to sort out. Don't misunderstand me, she's a liar and a sneaky little chit that needs a time-out, but I cycled back and forth between disliking her and being completely indifferent to her. Iorek Byrnison was pretty cool, if a bit "meh" and Lee Scoresby was downright awesome (and points for scoring the even more awesome Sam Elliot for the role in the movie!). I didn't like Mrs. Coulter at all, but I don't think I was supposed to. She worked for the church, and the church is supposed to be bad, remember?

Onto Knife...New character Will had some promise, but he too got on my nerves after a time. The plot starts spinning every which way but loose and there's even more mind-boggling and brain-scrambling twists and betrayals and alliances and destinies and fights and oh my God! My favorite character is dropped like a hot potato! Oh, it's on, now. The last book is sure to be a train wreck.

Spyglass...oh dear. If the first book took for-ev-ah to gain any momentum, then this one barely made it off the ground. Sheer tenacity kept me reading, and a strange desire to see how much worse the series could get. What the Gallifrey was going on here? How much hogwash can we jam into five-hundred-some pages? I thought this was supposed to be a well-written, expertly-created rebooting of a classic! What happened to all of that? Did Mr. Pullman just let it all go? I don't agree with his theology and I was disappointed in his first installment, but it was better than this! It was certainly well-written, but as I said, the plot went to heck in a hand basket. I've read better. Much better.

Dare I utter such heresy?...the movie was better.

Your humble book nerd,

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