His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This trilogy, comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, follows the fantastical adventures of Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry as they weave their way through a labyrinth of epic events and trials. When I first read the series, admittedly, I gave up well before the midway point of The Subtle Knife— disappointed by the turn of events within the overarching story.
The Golden Compass, the first book of the trilogy, is by far my favorite of the three. This story takes place in a fantasy world much like our own; Lyra is from a place called Oxford, where she lives with the scholars at Jordan College. Not far into the story her best friend, Roger, is kidnapped by the Gobblers (a group of people who have been stealing children from the streets) and the course of the novel more-or-less follows her struggle to rescue him.
This first novel, aside from hints of deeper intrigues to come later, is very much your typical fantasy novel. The world that Pullman creates is one that is a blending of physics, science, and religion. Lyra’s world is a place where magical happenings and armored bears run hand-in-hand with zeppelins, guns, and aeronauts. By far the worlds of His Dark Materials are the most rich and well-done aspects of the series. The settings and technology have a very Steampunk vibe– from anbaric lanterns to hot-air balloons, the technology Pullman creates is truly magnificent.
The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, take the series in another, but not unexpected direction. In The Subtle Knife, Lyra meets Will Parry, and the two of them soon find themselves with the ability to move between different worlds and dimensions. At the same time, the reader is able to put together some of the more vague events of the first book: Lord Asriel and his war against the Almighty, Mrs. Coulter and the Oblation Board, and so on. It is in these two books that most of the controversy surrounding the series manifests itself. While I was not particularly unsettled by the blatant bashing of organized religion or the idea of battling the Almighty, I can certainly see where others might feel uneasy. Philip Pullman surely is not the first literary figure to take such a stance within his writing and certainly will not be the last.
Actually, I found many of the strange twists and turns of the storyline to be quite entertaining and even unexpected. The merging of scientific ideas, physics, theology, and fantasy were all very fascinating in so far that they were put together in such a way I have never seen before. The series is beautifully crafted and Pullman is a master at creating enduring characters and worlds.
So, here is my advice if you are planning on reading the series. Go into it with an open mind. If you are looking for a light, harmless, and conventional fantasy adventure this is not it (this is part of the reason I did not finish the series the first time I started it).
Next month, I will be moving away from the fantasy theme that has been prevelant in my reading towards more variety. On the list? Memoirs of a Geisha, The Hellbound Heart, and Mansfield Park.