Lyra doesn’t live in our world. She lives in a parallel universe. According to Lord Asriel, all parallel universes coexist and are connected by the Dust in the Northern Lights (The Golden Compass‘s original title). And in Lyra’s world the totalitarian organization called the Magisterium rules with an iron fist, eradicating any “traitorous” thoughts.
The Alethiometer is a “truth measure” and operates on the mystical Dust. By asking a question in your mind and moving the three red needles to three corresponding images on the rim, the reader will receive an answer when the blue needle points to three other symbols. Very few people can read these Golden Compasses. Many of the Alethiometers have been destroyed by the Magisterium because they interfered with their rule. Lyra, however, is one of the remaining few who can read one.
In Lyra’s world, people have daemons: animals who represent human souls in an exterior form. Holding a person’s daemon affects the human and vice versa. A child’s daemon can shapeshift, but starting in puberty, it begins to “settle” into it’s adult form, from which it cannot change.
Philip Pullman creates an amazingly rich world populated with majestic creatures like “daemons” (animals who represent human souls in an exterior form) and “panserbjørn” (armored bears who wear their souls in the armor they make from Sky Iron) and minute details that bring Lyra’s world to life (e.g. a witch’s daemon can be separated by long distances from their person). The first few chapters are a little slow and read almost like a textbook that you would find at Lyra’s Jordan College, but the action begins very quickly–and once it does, you can’t put the book down.
I read this book at the insistent recommendation of my two older cousins. I read this a little before I read Harry Potter, and it is this book that actually holds the spot of first favorite fantasy book in my heart. Because of this, it is an all-time favorite of mine.