(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)
As this is the first book in the series, I've avoided spoilers, so read on! If you're paranoid, skip to 'Final Verdict'. :)
Guys. I love this book. This is seriously one of my favoritest books of all time. I mean, yes, I enjoyed it quite a bit in high school (though back then I found it a little slow at the beginning -- didn't have that problem this time; maybe it's because I was expecting it this time?) but this time I LOVED it to pieces. It's just such a riveting adventure, and I love the creativity behind Pullman's world. I don't know if the whole notion of the daemons has ever been used in another popular fantasy work, but I've yet to see it, and the way that Pullman uses it to expound on all kinds of themes, such as religion and growing up... I don't know how I didn't catch on to most of it in high school. Also, they're just friggin' COOL. I want a daemon.
That's what's awesome about this series; it's something that adults can get a lot of food for thought out of (I can't even begin to describe how many academic papers there are this trilogy) but it's got so much fun and imaginativeness for the kids as well. At the book store at work, this series is in almost every age group: adult, middle grade AND teen. I think that's a testament to how wide of an audience this book can, and has, reached out to.
The cast of characters is fantastic. Lyra Belacqua is easily one of my favorite literary heroines of all time. She's absolutely wild and crazy (though of course that changes over the course of the series) but still manages to be likable. Probably because of her resourcefulness, even when that resorts to lying, which sometimes gets her into a spot of trouble. Despite her initial rabidness though, she's actually an extremely caring individual. Also, can I say that I love that there are so many important adult characters who help Lyra A LOT throughout the course of the series, even when she's off on her own? Young adult fiction falls into the trap of eliminating adult characters a lot, but Pullman embraces them. I loved Lee Scoresbee and Serafina Pekala, and almost all of the adults in Lyra's life who guide her.
I also need to make a special mention of the polar bears. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Iorek Byrnison. He is easily the coolest character in this series and I love the role he plays in Lyra's life. And polar bears in armor? I don't know WHY I'm so enamoured with that notion, but they're just so BADASS. So, um, yes, I especially loved Iorek.
Final Verdict: This is a book that I'll treasure forever and ever. Pullman has created an amazingly rich and imaginative world. It has a great cast of characters, and despite being a yound adult book (though this book really appeals to all ages) there are plenty of adult characters who are almost equally important to the kids. In essence, it's got something for *everyone*, and I think that's why it's so popular and has gone done as a modern children's classic. This is a book that I press on everyone, and if I were to ever have kids one day, I'd be super stoked to read this to them and get them hooked too.