I'm going to add book reviews to the list of things I put here. I don't like the cramped little spaces sellers and such have, nor do I like their little "star" systems. On the flip side, I'm not going to give a lengthy review either. I will mark a review if it has spoilers.
I know I'm massively late on this novel. And I'm not precisely the target audience for it (I'm thinking ages 10 to about 15). But I have to say, I rather enjoyed it.
I avoided the books a few years back when all the hoopla came about from our friendly wingnuts (the sort of folks that generally have issues separating fantasy from reality and like to burn books). I'm not a fan of hype, good, bad, or otherwise, and I tend to shun anything getting any hype.
First off: panserbjørne. I was sold on that concept alone. It decidedly appealed to the little boy in me: how cool is the concept of armored bears? Getting beyond the cool factor of the bears, I thought their culture was well fleshed out. It's a fairly spartan culture with strong honor-sense. Somehow, I got feelings of Klingons combined with Tolkien's Elves combined with, oddly, Ents and something else that escapes me at this time. Anyway, I found these creatures to be the most real of the others in this universe of Pullman's.
Keying off that last note, I did find most of the characters to be not quite three-dimensional. They were decidedly not as flat as characters in other books I've had the displeasure of reading, but they certainly don't come fully to life. Perhaps I am expecting too much for the genre, but I do compare these sorts of novels to Pratchett and, of course, Tolkein.
Beyond the 2.5 D (nah, make that 2.75 D, Iorek and Lee Scoresby are decidedly well rounded) characters, the world itself is rather fascinating. The Church and government are definitely behaving as entrenched power structures behave. Perhaps that's what freaked out the wingnuts: it shines an accurate light on their actions. I also like the message that the established scientists (aka Scholars) are just human and fallible.
I guess one thing really stuck in my craw. And this is your only spoiler alert, although I don't feel too bad as this book was published in 1995 (I feel miffed that I missed this thing for 14 years, then again, I first read Pratchett in 2005-6). The betrayal of Lyra by her father was telegraphed from the beginning. Perhaps I've just read too many alt-world/fantasy novels, but Lord Asriel decidely comes off as an antagonist from the very beginning. And the perternaturally good Farder Coram and John Faa set up the obvious counter-point to the "secretly" bad Asriel. An ends-justify-the-means sort of person, but minus the deeper character that help us empathize with him (perhaps he is better fleshed out in the later novels), it was obvious he was going to do something bad by the end.
All in all, I will give the book fairly high marks. It did pull me through the last 100 pages or so last night (when I should have been sleeping). I would definitely recommend it to anyone; it's a good short romp, but it isn't going to make you think deeply.
11 months ago