The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman Leyra may be one of the most precocious 12 year old girls I've ever come across in a novel. So much so that I kept checking the age, making sure that 2 wasn't a 6 or a 7. It has a lot of the normal elements of popular YA books nowadays; precocious and charming kid, lots of adults who exist mainly for the kid to act smarter than, smarter but charismatic villains, and a strange quest that entails an equally strange object. In fact, It had so much similar to another popular YA fantasy that I also had to check the date of the novel to see if it was BH or AH (Before Harry or After Harry). It was published in 1BH.

But the similarities are more in theme than plot. It's a quite different tale and a good one at that. Pullman's alternate version of Earth feels Victorian and Steam-Punk in style. Its Humans are coupled with Daemons; creatures that exist alongside their human and can change shapes into various creatures when the human is an child. They develop a permanent shape as their humans becomes adult.It's good to pay attention to things like this as you read the novel because these little oddities become important when the story develops. Essentially these daemons are the person's souls, being located externally. Lyra lives a rather protected existence at Oxford until children start to go missing and are thought to be captured by "Gobblers". What entails is a quest to save these children which ends up as a much more complicated journey. The author builds these complexities with ease, especially for what is considered Young Adult. Yet this is one of those novels that will read well for adults too.

Much have been made of this book and the rest of the trilogy as being anti-religious. It's there but rather subtle and wrapped nicely in analogy. I've been told the other two books are more direct. One can go as far as calling this book the Anti-Narnia since Pullman has said he wrote this series as a rebuttal to the C. S. Lewis books. Yet as with the Narnia books, knowing this doesn't take away the magic. The Golden Compass is an exceptional fantasy. My only criticism is that much of it feels like a set-up for the next two books and I suspect it is. But if the idea was to get the reader hooked and caring for the delightfully intelligent but somewhat bratty Leyra, not to mention rooting for a certain polar bear, then its goal has been met. Three and a half stars with bigger expectations for Book Two.