Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Once Upon a Time in the North

by Phillip Pullman

Published by David Fickling Books

Phillip Pullman is brilliant and anyone who says otherwise should be punched on the head. I don't love all of his books, though: I've tried a couple of times but just can't get with the Sally Lockheart series. His books for younger children are wonderful, however, and I would strongly recommend that everyone in the world, of any age, read I Was a Rat.

His Dark Materials is also a must-read and way surpasses The Narnia Chronicles in the 'classic' stakes. Like all fans of the Lyra stories, I want more and that is what we have in Once Upon a Time in the North.

It starts slowly and features a young Lee Scoresby and his daemon Hester on a wild-west type adventure. They arrive in a lawless town, where shady characters are plotting dark schemes. It reads like an old-fashioned western (the title is an obvious reference to the classic Once Upon a Time in the West) and I reckon Pullman always had a hankering to write something in that genre. He makes the most of that opportunity here, especially with the exciting shoot-out finale.

I'm not sure this prequel adds anything to our understanding of Lyra's world but we do get to meet a couple of old friends from the trilogy and I was very happy to see them again. I hope Phillip Pullman continues to add more beautiful miniatures to the Materials canon, perhaps next time giving us a noir thriller with a young Lord Asriel, or a gothic mystery with Seraphina.

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