‘Once Upon A Time In The North’ – Our Review
Posted on by Ian

Once Upon A Time SmallBridgetotheStars have seen and read the new Philip Pullman book. Here’s our review:

The latest ’His Dark Materials’ related instalment from Philip Pullman is an absolute triumph.

It seems that ‘Once Upon A Time In The North’ is not destined for the same fate as ’Lyra’s Oxford’. Initial hopes about that book had been high but restrained; for all its strengths, however, it was seen by many as a disappointment. ‘Once Upon A Time In The North’ is by comparison quite the converse.

Pullman has arguably produced some of his best writing… in his homage to Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, a continuance of his enthusiasm for westerns which has been found previously in so many of his writings. The themes found in this novella range from the restoration of justice and honour to simpler things such as friendship and lust. The book, as with much of Pullman’s writing, works on a number of levels and is guaranteed to satisfy all readers, regardless of age.

The plot is simple genius, playing on a number of key things which may have been noticed by the reader in the ’His Dark Materials’ trilogy, such as the foundations of Lee Scoresby and Iorek Brynison’s camaraderie, the story of how Lee acquired his balloon and rifle, and his love of the Arctic.

The writing is flawless and Pullman offers at times an excellent descriptive narrative but is able to contrast it at times with well paced story-telling. It never seems like even a single word is unnecessary and there is never a gaping absence to be found. The novella is one which manages to spectacularly encompass everything important – the reader may ask questions afterwards but they are unlikely to feel that what they seek should have been included. Pullman’s tale culminates with a first-rate bringing together of plot strands in a splendid, if somewhat unexpected ending.

The reader is not only offered a signature story by Pullman, but is given more with some intriguing additional material at the close of the novella regarding the path of Lyra’s education at Oxford. Is the dissertation she submits in fact about the tale just told? Is the novella intended to serve as Lyra’s scrap book as she goes about her education? It can only be hoped that the future books may inform the reader, but for the time being there is plenty of speculation to be had.

The physical book itself is beautifully bound in blue cloth and, despite its similarities to ’Lyra’s Oxford’, manages to look far more regal than its predecessor. The bonus material found within is a credit to Pullman and David Fickling Books – it is well presented and of excellent quality. The attached board game, ’Peril of the Pole’, is yet to be tested by the reviewer but appears at first sight a joy to play. The highlight must surely be the engravings by John Lawrence which are superb and accurately reflect the story throughout.

There is a genuine sense that Philip Pullman has taken his time in writing this novella, and that he has simultaneously taken the best elements from his past works and woven them together with his formidable story-telling. The book is fantastic – it is everything that fans had hoped for from ’Lyra’s Oxford’ and almost more than anybody had expected from the forthcoming ’Book of Dust’. We can only hope that future ’His Dark Materials’ publications are produced to a similar standard and that the levels of creativity found within ‘Once Upon A Time In The North’ are maintained throughout the developmental process.

This book can surely only be a success and is an outstanding read.

”Once Peril of the Pole Small

‘Once Upon A Time In The North’ will be released on April 3rd in the UK, Ireland and Japan, April 8th in the USA and Canada, and May 1st in Australia and New Zealand.

Philip Pullman will be at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 31st to discuss and launch the book. Tickets cost £15 and can be booked here.

Reviewed by Ian Giles.

About Ian

A keen fan of His Dark Materials and Philip Pullman. Assistant to Paul Temple and Sir Graham Forbes.
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17 Responses to ‘Once Upon A Time In The North’ – Our Review

  1. Tori says:

    I have a feeling that once the ‘little green book’ is out, we’re going to see why these three books serve as the bridge to the Book of Dust.

  2. Aletheia Dolorosa says:

    Brilliant, Ian! I’m going to see if the publishing company will give me an advance review copy to review for work. 1st May is too long to wait!

  3. FT says:

    This was very good. Not only was it far longer than Lyra’s Oxford (nearly twice as many pages and far more text per page) but actually served as a proper story with a beginning middle and end. I disagree about it being what we expect from tBoD however. OUaTitN is a fantastic gem of a tale,beautifully told, but I presume the upcoming novel will be far more than that, a grand masterstroke of a book to rival his dark materials. Still, ‘Once Upon…’ is superb.

  4. Ian says:

    Perhaps I ‘misspoke’ (as the wonderful Hilary said) about my hopes for the book of dust. What I am hoping for is an anthology full of tales which are of the same quality. Somehow I’ve had the feeling it won’t be a long novel, but I guess we’ll see what happens…

  5. Lizzietiffon01 says:

    It’s out all ready in the uk…..

    i got it yesterday but am yet 2 read it. First impressions were excellant 😀

    i love the illustrated board game in the pouch at the back

  6. FT says:

    Yeah, you often find books out a week or so before their release date in some shops, moste stores are delivered them early and choose to sell them early.

  7. australis says:

    OUaTitN? You’ve got to be jesting! Can we please just call it North?

    And why do the good citizens of God’s own country have to wait until MAY to get it? It’s the 21st Century for goodness sake. Are they delivering them by packhorse or Zeppelin?

    At least I will have finished re-reading TAS by then. I’ll need something to cheer me up and this sounds like just the ticket.

  8. Ian says:

    Yes, strictly speaking it’s not yet out. But it’s not under a trade embargo (the thing used in the publishing industry for big books – you threaten to prosecute anyone who sells them before the big day e.g. Harry Potter), which means that places like Amazon will simply begin to fulfill orders as soon as they receive their first lot of books…

  9. Paul says:

    I’m afraid that I was disappointed with Philip Pullman’s latest offering.

    I finished the book in about forty-minutes so clearly enjoyed it. Pullman is a master storyteller and is able to conjure towns, places and atmosphere so clearly and vividly.

    However, there is a lack of characterisation (little on Byrinson which was a huge disappointment) and events occur which are left unexplained or included for a lack of purpose. I believe that this story should of been extended to more then one-hundred or so pages. Its quality has been compromised by a format that it was obviously stipulated to follow.

  10. Ian says:

    An extension would have been unnecessary. I feel that a characteristic of Pullman’s writing is that there is often less characterisation than desired. But on the other hand it is more than made up for by the rich quality of the story itself. Much like with HDM, I’d feel with this book that there is little point extending the finished article.

  11. Chester says:

    I picked up my copy today! For anyone who is interested Hatchards have a limited edition signed slipcased edition for £20 (you can order it on their website).

  12. FT says:

    I felt that this was very much Lee’s story as opposed to Iorek’s story, and where it failed as a ‘When X met Y’kind of tale it was made up for by prooving an excellent book in it’s own right.

    Am I making sense?

  13. Ian says:

    Absolutely. I’d say the one problem is that the press was slightly misinformed by the publishers as to what the book was going to be. Rereading their press release from last September, they did dumb it down a little though (as it will have been sent to booksellers and the national press etc) so I guess it’s only natural.

  14. prairiebuilding says:

    Seeing “North” and “Lyra’s Oxford” together on my shelf makes me hope for similarly formatted and bound editions of the HDM trilogy.

  15. Ian says:

    The Lantern Slide editions?

  16. Grumman says:

    It’s a shame Pullman is such a lazy writer, since he’s so good. I wouldn’t call this book a literary event, but I enjoyed reading the story of Leigh Scorby and York Burnyson lol.

  17. Ian says:

    Can I ask how you see him as a lazy writer?