I've been reading Philip Pullman's trilogy for the past week and I am enchanted.
At first, I didn't warm up to the book, I kept reading samples of the first few paragraphs and they read so much like adult fantasy I was turned away. I felt like whatever a daemon, there'd be some horribly sedate and technical system of magic aligned with it and Lyra would be like any other of the dozens of deadweight shitbathers that infest the genre like termites biting at the very words that make them up.
Finally, one day I just decided to bite the bullet and buy it on the basis of the great recommendations I'd gotten (I think Sparky made one, and her taste is always helpful) and by the end of the 1st chapter it fully recovered from the first few paragraphs and had me in its fascination, determinedly not like the flying turds adult fantasy authors assquack of their bungholes.
That means His Dark Materials trusts its reader to read into the psychology of the characters without interminable paragraphs of plotting and thinking laid out in their minds. It means there's actual wonder and fanciful fantasy that gets your imagination churning. It means a blessed lack of many of the Tolkien worlds. It means there's an actual style to the author's writing and prose that can make you smile. It means no tortured pseudo-poetic mental state or landscape descriptions. It means really GOOD names like Lyra Silvertongue or Mrs. Coulter or Iorek Byrnison or Sir Charles or Lee Scoresby. There's a single case of Grolwath'il-bir Shippellithdick III of the Blasted Stones in His Dark Materials.
The villains are so menacing they get your heart racing and your mind thumping every time they come on the page. Especially since Pullman usually draws them with such a silent menace most of the time. That crazy young man in the Tower of Angels, the way Sir Charles is reintroduced, Lord Asriel's ambiguity, that other bear king. But best of all is Mrs. Coulter. Wow, what a character. I find I like to read His Dark Materials while listening to jazz-pop singer Mika Nakashima and I picture Mrs. Coulter looking like her (if you added some Pullman-style witch into the mix). That monkey gets more and more terrifying each time and she is so disquietingly evil, yet so classy, beautiful, polite and charming, its just marvelous.
The two child main characters are fantastic in their resourcefulness. You can't help but cheer how they are able to think up such great ideas on the spot or lie, steal and cheat their way through impossible odds. I'm especially reminded of the kick-ass scene in that abandoned city where the mob of kids was coming at them. (That description of them as a unit was fantastic, BTW.)
I'm more than half way through the Subtle Knife and I love the magical instruments or the ones made seem more magical, like the air ballon, or that Victorian instrument Lord Asriel using the Jordan meeting. The compass and the knife are the coolest Magical Fantasy Things I Wish There Was in Real Life in a long time.
I also like the spiritual angle the story is leading so far. I have no idea what the end result will be but I suspect it will be surprising. The one I wish for is more Iorek Byrnison. The entire matter of polar bears was indescribably awesome in the first book. I do like that the witches survived onto the second though. The description of their beauty and flying gives you that kind of yearning for simple pleasures that the best books incite.
In any case, His Dark Materials and continues the trend of children's fantasy having better characterization, recognizable and delightful writing styles, actual mystery in the fantastic and a better understanding of what makes the fantastic so well, fantastic. Inspired by this book, the new Harry Potter and the Diana Wynne Jones, C.S. Lewis, John Christopher and Lloyd Alexander I read earlier in life, I went on an Amazon buying spree and purchased Sorcery & Cecilia, Artemis Fowl, more Diana stuff, including the newer Chrestomanci book, some Edith Nesbit, Eragon, Sabriel and Abarat. I can't wait to dig into these genre again. Long live the REAL fantasy tradition that should have flourished after Tolkien.