If eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead had a nickname, it would be Professor, but he isn’t the sort of boy who adopts nicknames. Malcolm and his daemon Asta live with his parents at the Trout Inn, across the Thames from the Godstow Priory. He does odd jobs for the Inn and the Priory’s nuns, ferrying back and forth across the river in his beloved canoe La Belle Sauvage, and one day he finds himself enthralled by a new guest at the Priory — a baby called Lyra Belacqua.

It’s been over 20 years since The Golden Compass, and most likely your memory of the book has been warped by time and love, so I ask you to remember what were the hallmarks of that series.

  1. Daemons – If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and my daemon would have appeared long ago. Pullman sets up both the magical and societal rules of daemons, then efficiently breaks them in Miss Coulter’s experiments, and when the villain of La Belle Sauvage horrifyingly abuses his own daemon.
  2. A meandering story in both plot and setting that maintains a perfect balance of suspense and world-building — no spoilers here!
  3. A totalitarian regime that regards science and knowledge as the enemy — Malcolm is drawn into a world of resistance, spies, and secrets.
  4. Supernatural events tinged with mundane concerns — Including a creaky wooden boat in a monstrous flood, heating formula over campfires and changing wet nappies (diapers) while fleeing from the Consistorial Court of Discipline.
  5. Enchanting fairy tale obstacles — From witches and armored polar bears to perilous fairies and river gods.
  6. Symbolic details — From the symbols on alethiometer to a carved acorn used by the spy network.
  7. Children’s literature that doesn’t shy away from big ideas or the dark side of humanity — no explanation needed. Pullman is the master of this craft.

This is just the first book in a brand new series, and I’m floored by how captivating the simple chase story set in the same world. In a way, I find this story more honed than His Dark Materials, with all the nods and references to Lewis Carroll and CS Lewis and adventures of wonder and religious dogma.

Highly recommended for fans of British literature!

“He came awake like someone struggling to swim to the surface of a lake of laudanum, where the strongest delights were the deepest and there was nothing above but cold and fear and duty.”