I’ve read The Golden Compass before, but it’s been a few years. On top of that, this time around, I listened to it as an audiobook (the full cast reading, I’m not sure if there is another). I have fond memories of this book and for the most part, they were met on re-read, which is something you don’t always get.
The core of the book is a world where people’s spirits / souls / conscious exists as a separate being, a daemon who takes the form of an animal companion –changing and mutable at first and eventually settling into a single form for adults that represents the core of who they are. It’s an interesting idea and well done, to the point that it feels natural, to the point that I almost wish I could live in this world, just to see who my daemon might be.
On top of that, we have a number of other fantastical creatures and worldbuilding–witches and armored polar bears, a city in the aurora borealis. It’s this fantasy worldbuilding, along with a young troublemaker of a protagonist out to explore everything she can that really appeals to children.
On another layer, there is a surprising amount of darkness when you start digging in, digging into the philosophies of who we are as people and what it means to have a ‘soul’ as well as looking into a shiny (on the surface) society, where just beneath all manner of nasty things are going on. In particular, we have a dark echo of just what a large controlling church can be, exploring that world from the perspectives of those raised in such a world, those using it for their own ends, and those looking to tear it down.
Overall, it’s a fascinating sort of book. I enjoyed it every bit as much as I did when I last read it years ago. And to anyone with the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend the full cast audiobooks. It’s wonderful to have a voice for each of the characters. Well worth the listen.