I’ve had The Golden Compass on my school library shelf for three years. I’ve wanted to read it and never had the opportunity. With so many students all eager for fiction recommendations, my reading list can be long and scattered – science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, realistic fiction. I’m often reading several books at one time. One or my fourth grade students simply tore through this series this fall. I’m grateful to her for putting this book and series back on my radar. The beginning of this book really grabbed my attention. I didn’t stop reading until I’d finished the book.
The Golden Compass is the first book in the “His Dark Materials” series (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and the Amber Spyglass). Lyra is the main character. Her world resembles the current world with recognizable countries and geography. Every human being has a daemon, an animal that acts as an expression of each person’s soul, and is their closest friend. Daemons change form as a child grows and eventually settle into one animal form when the child becomes an adult. Lyra is being raised by the Scholars at Jordan College. Lord Ariel, her uncle, visits Lyra occasionally, but she is largely left to her own devices. She spends most of her time with her best friend, Roger, a kitchen boy. Together, they get into a lot of mischief, battling with other children, climbing onto the roof of the College and discovering all that tunnels and rooms that lie beneath the College.
The story begins as Lyra, a girl, and her daemon, Pantalaimon hide in a wardrobe in the Retiring Room at Jordan College. Hidden, she sees the Master of the College walk into the room and put poison in the wine glass of the visiting Lord Asriel, who is soon to arrive. Lord Asriel enters the Retiring Room only to catch Lyra, hiding in the wardrobe. Lyra tells him of the poisoned wine. Grateful to know about the plot to kill him, Lord Asriel allows her to crawl back in the wardrobe so that she can see the slideshow he is presenting to Scholars at Jordan College. The slideshow shows the Aurora in the North and an image of a city in the sky. Lord Asriel speaks to the group of Scholars about a mysterious substance called “dust”. Lyra is fascinated by the images Lord Asriel has shown the group. She is curious about everything she has heard and wants to visit the North to learn more about “dust” and the City in the sky.
From that day forward, Lyra’s life changes completely. She and Roger begin to hear rumors that children are being stolen from Oxford and surrounding areas. Then, Roger is abducted. Lyra also learns that Lord Asriel is being held prisoner in the North. Then, the Master of the College tells Lyra that she must leave Jordan College and go live with Mrs. Coulter, a beautiful and charming, but mysterious, woman. Before she leaves the College, the Master gives her a strange device called an alethiometer, that looks like a compass. She is told to keep it safe from others.
Lyra soon finds out that she has a special gift that allows her to “read” the alethiometer. She learns more about her family and the evil that exists in her world. She is forced to run away from Mrs. Coulter’s house and is found and protected by Gyptians, a nomadic people who move from place to place on their boats. Together with the Gyptians and an armored bear called Iorek Byrnison, Lyra heads north to free her friend Roger, the other lost children and Lord Asriel.
This is a fast-paced book’s unfolding mystery will hold you in suspense until the final pages. There are truly evil characters and smart, loyal characters that you’ll come to love. Lyra is brave and determined to fight the evil she sees.
I highly recommend this book to fourth grade-middle school readers who love mystery and fantasy.