Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review - His Dark Materials

I can't seem to keep my reading list straight. I was working on Greatest Show on Earth. It's actually the third time I've picked up the book and found it too tedious to keep me from distraction. Perhaps that's enough of a review right there, but hopefully, one day, I'll finish it.

Anyway, before leaving for my convention trips last month, I decided I wanted some lighter reading that would help me eat the rather considerable free time I'd have. So I grabbed the compendium of His Dark Materials I gave to my sister for Christmas when the movie came out for Golden Compass, which was the first book in the trilogy.

My overall impression of the series is that they were merely decent. Not on par with the Harry Potter series. Both worlds are exceptionally well fleshed out and have a similar feel that the authors (or perhaps it was intended to be the experience of the characters) had no direction in the beginnings. In Harry Potter, it was little more than Voldemort was a baddie until book six when it's suddenly, "Boom! Horcruxes!" which brought the whole story into sharp focus. With His Dark Materials, it was about rescuing kids from having their spirit animals cut apart from them until half way through the second book when it suddenly changed to waging war against false powers.

Again, comparing to Harry Potter, the writing felt more forced in this series as well. Critics of Harry Potter often note how convenient it is that the kids just learned the spells necessary to defeat whatever they're up against in class last week. In this book, they're wandering through dimensions and happen to stumble across everyone and everything they need. This hurts the characterization some since this blind stumbling seems to drive the characters nearly as much as their own ambitions which aren't always terribly convincing. This is especially true for one of the characters that comes in later, Mary, who is supposed to play a pivotal role, but doesn't get all that much page time and that role she does play, isn't nearly as powerful as the lead up to it was pretending.

Similarly, the main villains, past the first book, were all pretty lame in the end. As I'm sure most people know, the movie got a lot of grief because this series is heavily critical of the Church, and creates a scenario in which God isn't really the creator, but rather the first sentient being who just slapped his name on everything and stole credit to dominate all life from then on. I thought this was a fantastic premise that would lead up to a grand showdown, but it didn't happen. God was a hermit that wasn't really running the show and was being carried around by some angels in a chariot that got shot down without anyone even knowing. That's all.

Meanwhile, the guy actually running the show, the real baddie, Metatron (yeah, I'm picturing Alan Rickman too), never even went toe to toe with the main characters. Instead, he fought her daddy (ok, mommy was there too but largely worthless), and they all threw themselves off a cliff together. The devastating weapon, the subtle knife, that even Gods would fear? Never even delivered. Quite a letdown. The most threatening bad guy wasn't the actual angels or God. Instead, it was the Church in one of the many worlds which had an interdimensional bomb that could hunt you down no matter where you were with no more than a strand of hair.

Overall, the books were worth reading, but not something I'm likely to pick up again.


Lance Finney said...

I really enjoyed the first couple books, but the last one didn't live up to the promise for me.

Maybe I misunderstood the book, but it seemed that the climax of the entire series, the action that changed the course of all the universes, the amazing change that led a church to send an assassin to stop the tempter, was... a pubescent girl getting her first crush.


Jon Voisey said...

Lyra was definitely supposed to be late into her teens as, by the end of the books, Pan can no longer transform which is the sign of adulthood.

But yes, that was the magical changing event. Lyra was supposed to be an Eve who was tempted by Mary (the serpent). Yet the comparison flopped. The "temptation" was Mary telling Lyra about getting a crush and her realizing her own feelings. The temptation of knowledge over ignorance as a general statement was where it should have led. And the decision needed to be far more epic.