Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

Once Upon a Time in the North concludes my rapid devouring of all things “His Dark Materials”. (At least for now, I sigh, while longing dreamily for the Book of Dust…) Much like its predecessor Lyra’s Oxford, this tale takes the form of a short story set in Pullman’s “Dark Materials” universe. This time around, our protagonists are Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby, and his wonderfully sassy and sardonic daemon Hester. Lee was definitely one of my stand-out favourites in the HDM series, so being able to take a glimpse at his younger years was a real joy. Here we meet Lee in his early twenties, newly having taken possession of his balloon, all but crashing-landing in a town where trouble is brewing and bears are roaming the streets.

What unfolds is a gun-slinging tale of politics and intrigue that proved a pleasure to listen to. Fight scenes have a longstanding habit of hitting my off-switch, be it in film, TV or book form, but as Lee battled his way through a storage warehouse under fire, I crept with him every inch of the way. Pullman has a wonderful ability to draw his readers in and carry them along for the adventure, and even as I was utterly delighted by the first meeting between Lee and the legendary armored bear Iorek Byrnison, part of me was (and is!) deeply sad that this is the last look we may have of this world for some time.

I listened to this story as narrated by Pullman and the HDM cast, and my praise, as with the rest of the series, couldn’t be higher. I’ve never listened to audiobooks as masterfully crafted as these. Once Upon a Time in the North improves somewhat on Lyra’s Oxford by troubling to describe some of the ephemeral items that make up the remainder of the hardback copy. While I own the latter and could see what I was missing out on, I don’t currently possess a physical copy of the former, so this proved to be a valuable inclusion (and it was oh so lovely to hear just a smidgen from Lyra again).

Overall, for any fan of the Dark Materials series, I couldn’t recommend this little tale highly enough.

[Read from 8-14 May]

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