I listened to this book as an audiobook. I actually enjoyed it in this format very much. It was mainly read by the author, but it also had a full cast for the characters. Much better than when a male reader tries to imitate female voices. Though sometimes that can be very funny. It reminded me of the fairy tale cassettes I used to fall asleep to as a child.
The story itself is about a girl, Lyra. It's obvious from the first moment that she's one of those destined children so popular in fantasy fiction. She's also 11, which is a common age to start child characters off. Lyra is a smart and cunning child. One of those natural leaders that can be the next Martin Luther King Jr., or the next Stalin. Which one she will become depends entirely on her basic temperament and life experiences. She is also very adaptable, just like her daemon. Whatever environment she finds herself in, she becomes part of it. She does feel like a normal child though. Sometimes children in stories are like mini-adults, but she isn't. I do find it interesting that a man picks a little girl to write about, while a similar destined character, Harry Potter, was written by a woman.
Daemons are the very core of the story. At first, I didn't feel they were properly explained. I got that daemons were the souls of people, but how they could function only became clearer as the story progressed. Daemons were the true forms of souls. They revealed the hidden desires, personalities, thoughts of people. It would be nice to have a daemon in real life. According to a Buzzfeed test, mine would be a cat.
There are some other characters, that were very intriguing, and a joy to read about. My personal favourites were the witches. Interestingly enough, they're the non-Christian characters, though they also seem to have some sort of a religion. I loved how Serafina Pekkala talked about the life of witches, how their longevity was a blessing and a curse.
The armoured bears were also interesting. I was especially intrigued by Iofur Raknison. He is a bear, who wants to be a man to be baptised. In a way, he reminded me of many peoples that decided to convert to Christianity, shunning their own native cultures. It wasn't properly explained though, what his motivations were. Maybe a form of self-hate. Hating being a bear, because he thought being a man would be more. Or he wanted the absolution for the things that he had done that the Catholic Church offers to people. To be free of his sins. Of course, sins can only be forgiven by ourselves if we want to be free of them, and some sins are purely imaginary, like the whole Original Sin idea. Religion tells you, you are sick, and they have the cure. The only trouble is, most people aren't sick at all. If you do have true sins, like Iofur, the forgiveness of others has no real meaning. It can help people to find a way to forgive themselves, which is probably what Iofur is really seeking, but in the end, the matter has to be dealt with on the inside of every person.
The story is about the importance of self, of thinking, free will. The evil people in the story are basically all those religious organisations that try to tell people how and what to think. I'm not completely sure yet what dust is exactly, but I have a few theories. I'm sure the story will be more and more about religion, having listened to Philip Pullman in interviews, but I'm curious as to where he will take the story. I do have the whole series as audiobooks, and lots of time to listen to them as I come and go.
This book can be read two ways. As a child, seeing the adventure, the evil characters, and cheering Lyra on. Or as an adult, observing the underlying themes, thinking about how freethinking has been hampered, progress, imagination stiffened by religion. I know, probably lots of religious parents are scared to give the book to their children, because of the very thing that I've written. However, if their religion is true, should it not withstand the test of reading fiction?
I do recommend this book. It's great fun, though brace yourselves for the ending. In a way, on its own, it was a bit like The Hunger Games' brand of dystopia. Also makes you think. Who ever said that books that made you think about religion had to be boring?
Read my review of the movie as well! I do compare it with the book.
Cross-posted at http://unapologetic-reviews.blogspot.com, where you can find more reviews.