Hello and welcome to all you beautiful people to Rank That Series! Having completed the His Dark Materials trilogy I thought why not rank the three books in my prefered order. Spoilers ahead for the books, His Dark Materials TV series and The Golden Compass film. You’ve been warned.
His Dark Materials follows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua, later Lyra Silvertongue, through not only her world but many others. She makes lifelong friends, confronts otherworldly enemies and ultimately discovers truths about the universe and herself. Lyra and her daemon filled world is something I’ve been in love with since I first watched The Golden Compass (2007). It’s really a crime that it’s taken me so long to sit my butt down and read the books. But I have now and they’ve taken me to places I didn’t expect. So without further ado let’s get started.
3. The Subtle Knife
In third place I’ve put the Subtle Knife, the second book in the trilogy. Whilst reading this book it honestly felt like the intermission between the other two; setting everything up for the next one. I’m not saying it was bad or dismissible but it didn’t feel like the main event. Kind of like a supporting act for a band on tour. They might be cool but they’re not why you’re there.
I like the world of Cittagazze. It’s painted as a deserted oasis. Beautiful empty paradise. There’s a mystery there and it’s a tale of the city stabbing themselves in the back. Essentially this is the universe of the subtle knife. It’s origin story. Here Will acquires the subtle knife so that he and Lyra can easily travel between the worlds. It’s only other purpose is a hiding place.
I may like the city but the citizens, what’s left of them, are a different story. I don’t like the kids. Even before they all turn on Lyra and Will. They’re just not likable to me. Especially Angelica who appears to be the ringleader.
Honestly the events that take place outside of Cittagazze interest me more. In our world Lyra meets Dr Mary Malone. Through their interactions we learn more about the nature of Dust and that there are other ways to communicate with it besides the alethiometer. Such as a computer Dr Malone has in her study and I Ching. There’s no doubt that other forms of divination can be used to communicate with Dust but that’s for a different post.
Meanwhile in Lyra’s world Lee Scoresby is on the hunt for Stanislaus Grumman who is actually John Parry, Will’s dad. This comes to another reason why The Subtle Knife is in the third spot for me. Lee’s death scene. The whole scene leading up to the moment is dramatic. It’s tense. It’s what you’d expect from a showdown. Lee and Hester talking in the aftermath is sad and emotional but at the end of the chapter is the line ‘and then they died’. Just like that. It’s such a quick way to say they died I thought it wasn’t true. I thought that Serafina arrived in time to save them. Nope that’s not the case. I might be the only one that reacted like this but I think Lee’s death could’ve been better. I feel I’m owed mourning time. I love Lee Scoresby. If there’s a character’s death in this series I want to cry over it’s his.
My last gripe is to do with Will. Don’t get me wrong I like Will but when he enters the story I feel like he takes over. Will becomes the leader and centre of attention. I know Lyra’s gone through some character development but she’s still a free spirit. I just feel like some of that gets lost. To me it feels like Will is the leader and Lyra is his assistant rather than the two protagonists having an equal partnership.
My favourite scene in the whole book is when Will and Lyra get the alethiometer back. The whole time I was left on the edge of my seat. Dodging around Mrs Coulter’s daemon is so tense.
In conclusion the Subtle Knife is third because of the dislikable characters, Lyra not being centred stage and mainly for the entire feel of the book being foundations for a much grander adventure. It’s still a good book that presents a few questions that the reader wants answers for.
2. The Amber Spyglass
In second place is The Amber Spyglass. There is so much content when it comes to the Amber Spyglass. A lot more characters are introduced. There are some plot points that are lovely but are ultimately unnecessary. Some parts that have been built up but end up being disappointing. Even so I was more entertained by the final book then The Subtle Knife.
I don’t mind all the new characters introduced because I like them. They’re glimpses into other parallel worlds, an idea that already has been well established. The Gallivespians, Chevalier Tialys and Lady Salmakia are key allies for Lyra and Will. Although they have their own agendas Lyra and Will’s journey would be different without them. The Mulefa are precious and need to be protected. Character wise I have a problem with the angels Balthamos and Baruch. Not with the characters themselves but what happens to them. For starters as soon as they were introduced I loved their relationship and was sad when Baruch died. Obviously Balthamos suffers from the loss and he stays with Will till he rescues Lyra. Once that happens he just disappears until the very end. It just seemed like a waste of the character. Why couldn’t he travel with them? He could’ve dealt with his wounds and earned his sacrifice rather than it happening out of nowhere. It just feels on the verge of Deus ex machina territory having a character that you may or may not remember, depending on how you read, saving the day without anyone knowing.
This leads onto another point, that whole subplot is a little pointless. I never feel any threat from this priest on a journey to kill Mary and neither do the characters. No one even knows he’s after them.
Speaking of threats the same goes for Metatron. He’s supposed to be the main antagonist but the threat isn’t there. When he does show up I still don’t feel like he lives up to the bad guy that the story has been building up. I do like the fight between him, Lord Astriel and Mrs Coulter that ultimately completes the later two’s redemption arc but otherwise he’s not the villain that the rest of the story made him out to be.
Something else that’s anticlimactic is the sin or whatever Lyra might commit that the Magisterium is so afraid of. She falls in love and has sex. That’s it. Fair enough with someone from a parallel universe but nothing really changes after that happens, except her daemon settles. Of course that’s not explicitly stated but all know that’s what happens. This is something that has been building since Northern Lights and what actually happens does not live up to that build up. I was expecting something that would profoundly change the universe and how it works. But no. Instead it’s something that could never happen and nothing would change.
In conclusion there are many disappointments. But beyond those disappointments is a journey. That journey is what I like about this book. A journey of friendship and love. Two people fixing a system that has led to overcrowding and eternal boredom in death. There are great characters and wonderful locations. You just have to look past the parts of the story that could be better.
1. The Northern Lights
The top spot. Number one can only be home to the book that started it all: The Northern Lights or The Golden Compass as it’s titled in America. As I’ve already stated the film adaptation of this story was a favourite of mine when I was a kid. Finally reading the book just made me love the story even more. Really this story can be self contained. You don’t have to read the other two if you don’t want and just have the story end with Lyra walking into the other world. I feel this is Lyra’s hero’s journey. One that prepares her for the adventure she’s about to embark on.
First this story completely focuses on Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon. My two favourite characters. Together they face many challenges and grow stronger because of it. The interesting thing is Lyra isn’t your typical hero, she’s a consistent liar. A talent that helps her get through some tough situations.
I love all the characters, maybe not so much Mrs Coulter and her daemon. Although she is a great villain. Very much a rose who knows how to use her thorns. She’s very much a villain you love to hate. Or maybe that’s more towards her daemon. I never like it when that monkey shows up.
One thing that always stuck me was how it was well established that it was a social rule that no one is allowed to touch someone else’s daemon. It’s so well done that when Pan is grabbed by someone in Bolvangar it affects not only Lyra but also the reader. I found it incredibly powerful.
I’m trying to think of something I don’t like and I can’t. I just love it. The story, the characters, the world and the writing is so good. Obviously I have a favourite.
There you have it. My ranking for the His Dark Materials book series. It is a series I enjoyed immensely and will be moving onto the Book of Dust series at some point. Let me know how you’d rank them. Is there anyone out that wouldn’t put Northern Lights in the top spot? Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you all in the next post.