Sunday, May 4, 2008

Once Upon a Time in the North

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman
Another glimpse into the world of His Dark Materials - it's 35 years before the trilogy, and young aeronaut Lee Scoresby has put down on Novy Odense in the North, looking for work and adventure. He finds the latter in spades. A corrupt corporation and a sleazy politician are obstructing a schooner's Captain from claiming his own cargo. Lee throws himself recklessly onto the side of good, operating on instinct and fearlessness. A bear-whom Lee thinks is named York Burningson-joins the deadly skirmish, shoving an enemy tanker-gun into the harbor while Lee engages in a gunfight in a warehouse. Scrawny, sardonic Hester-Lee's daemon-plays a key role in defeating a vicious hired gun.


Nate Hoekstra said...


Fantastic. My only complaint was that it wasn't larger... I'm used to Pullman writing incredible stuff like the Dark Materials Trilogy that lasts a bit longer. This book was worth it just to meet Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison again, in another setting.

abbylibrarian said...

This novella set in Pullman's His Dark Materials world tells the story of a young Lee Scoresby and his first encounter with the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. Although I love HDM, I'm not a super huge fan of the subsequent novellas. Scoresby is an intriguing character and this book gives us some more tidbits, but what I love about HDM is that it's a saga you can get lost in. With the novellas Pullman's added, I feel like as soon as I really get into the story, it's over.

Scarecrowster said...

The reason Northern Lights was the best book out of the entire trilogy "His Dark Materials" was the world it was set in. Philip Pullman weaved one of the most complex and enjoyable alternate universes I've ever read: a 19th century-style world on the brink of an industrial revolution, dominated by a Calvinist Church. A world of adventure and antiquity, where university professors discuss scientific expeditions from the comfort of Oxford smoking rooms, where the outskirts of civilisation are ruled by witches and sapient polar bears, where every human is accompanied by an animal spirit representing their inner soul.

As short as it is, Once Upon a Time in the North gives us a welcome return to that world - in particular, to the rugged and dangerous Arctic wilderness that was the setting for most of Northern Lights. The story is set thirty-five years before the trilogy, and details the first meeting of the Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison. Lee crash-lands his balloon on a frozen Russian island in the midst of a mayoral election, and is quickly pulled into the web of politics and power struggles between the Russian customs agency and the security forces of the local mining corporation.

This is mostly a short adventure story, with a nice setting and nifty action scene. The only part I disliked was the actual meeting of Lee and Iorek itself, which supposedly the entire book revolves around. Lee agrees to help a Dutch ship captain battle the unjust ruling of the harbourmaster, and Iorek joins them simply because he was nearby and wanted to help for no apparent reason. The rest of the story is solid, though - I especially liked the worldbuilding for North America that was detailed in Lee's past, since the alternate New World never really got a look-in during the main trilogy.

As with Lyra's Oxford, the previous supplement book, the text is scattered throughout with "fragments" relating to the storyline: a few pages from a navigation manual, a label from a bottle of cognac, a cargo receipt and so on. These add welcome touches to the book, as do the frequent illustrations done in an appropriate Nordic woodcut style.
Overall, a nice little addition to the collection, albeit at an exorbitant price. I just wish he'd hurry up and finish the Book of Dust already.

MeriJenBen said...

I love the Lee Scoresby character so much, this book would have had to suck mightily for me not to embrace it.
It doesn't suck. I don't know if it could stand alone without the Dark Materials trilogy behind it, but it is an engaging and quick read for those who are interested in further exploring Lyra's world.