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Once Upon a Time in the North: His Dark Materials Hardcover – April 8, 2008

66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up—In this prequel to the "His Dark Materials" trilogy (Knopf), Texas aeronaut Lee Scoresby meets armored bear Iorek Byrnison for the first time. In this short, fantastic adventure, young Scoresby finds himself on the Arctic island of Novy Odense, a community set in an alternate past world. The rich mining company Lars Manganese is trying to control the town, Ivan Dimitrovich Poliakov is a corrupt mayoral candidate, and Captain van Breda is prevented from unloading his cargo unjustly. Scoresby takes on the captain's cause, resulting in an Old West-style shootout. Many readers will likely enjoy this book because of its quick pace and action-filled plot, but some Pullman fans may be disappointed when comparing this short text to the trilogy. Characters are less developed, and events sometimes happen a bit too quickly. The ending is neat and tidy, though it does leave the door open for future adventures. The inclusion of documents and black-and-white engraved illustrations add a nice touch, and the board game Peril of the Pole is tucked into the back inside cover as a bonus.—Jennifer D. Montgomery, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* As he did in Lyra’s Oxford (2004), Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials trilogy in this story of how aeronaut Lee Scoresby meets and befriends bear Iorke Byrnison. Pullman is as fine a writer as there is for young people, and this book is a small gem—literally—it’s 112 pages and the size of a paperback. The story begins as Lee’s cargo balloon drifts into the Arctic, landing in the icy environs of Novy Odense. The town is about to elect a new mayor, Ivan Poliakov, who wants to rid the place of bears, and Lee (along with daemon rabbit Hester) finds himself embroiled in local controversies. When Lee learns one of Poliakov’s allies is a vicious criminal with whom he once had a run-in, he knows he must choose sides. Beautifully crafted and spilling over with action, the novel has the feel of an old western (one can almost see Gary Cooper as Lee). Matching Pullman’s carefully calibrated prose is the book’s thoughtful design. Everything works together—from the sturdy, blue cloth cover to the the back matter, which features a miniature board game. Lawrence’s stamp-sized ink engravings  set the tale somewhere between fantasy and history. Grades 7-10. --Ilene Cooper

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 940L (What's this?)
  • Series: His Dark Materials (Book 4)
  • Hardcover: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375845100
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375845109
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.8 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Best Of All on April 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A crooked politician and an equally corrupt businessman, a pending election with universal implications, one ice-cold killer and the initial meeting of two friends; Philip Pullman masterfully takes all these elements and weaves an interesting prequel to the classic, His Dark Materials, trilogy.

The initial meeting of Texas aeronaut Lee Scoresby - the winner of a hot-air balloon in a recent poker game - and his hare daemon, Hester, with the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, is explored in this action-packed adventure.

The layout of the hardbound novella is certainly a throwback to the past, with the story told in text, drawings and other resources. Included is a fold-out board game, Peril of the Pole, which proves that imagination still goes a long way in having fun.

This YA fantasy series continues to take twists and turns through an epic landscape.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By James Tepper VINE VOICE on April 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Once upon a time in the North" is the story of young Texan Lee Scoresby, who becomes enmeshed in a political and financial conspiracy to control the Arctic island-city, Novy Ordense. Scoresby becomes the ally of Captain van Breda whose cargo is being illegally held by the minions of an evil mining company seeking to get their candidate elected mayor in an upcoming election. This will make it easier for the company to control the natural resources of Novy Ordense, including newly discovered oil.

This is a short story (96 pages) that is completely stand-alone, or that could have fit just as nicely as a rather long flashback in one of the "Dark Materials" books describing an adventure of young (24 years old) Lee Scoresby and how he first met and befriended Iorek Byrnison, future King of the Bears, some 35 years before the events that take place in the "Dark Materials" trilogy. These are the only two characters from the "Dark Materials" to appear, and although "Once Upon A Time" takes place in the same alternate universe and with the same flavor, there is little of the fantasy and SF aspects that suffuse the former books (excepting daemons and talking bears, of course!). "Once upon a Time" is a rather straight-ahead, old fashioned adventure story with a western flavor (guns, hired bad guy, pretty girls, nice girls, a bar, a couple of fights and the hero prevailing at the end), but is nonetheless very enjoyable, especially if you happen to have read the original trilogy.

The book was written for a young adult audience in a skillful enough way so as to be enjoyable by young adults of all ages. It is also very handsomely packaged in a very small Navy blue hardcover and comes with a board game in an envelope glued to the inside back cover (that I have not opened). All in all, the entire package seems a good deal especially priced at $10.
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49 of 59 people found the following review helpful By 'amerye' on April 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finally the second of a pair of short books with further & earlier stories
about the characters of "His Dark Materials" has arrived! Readers who have eagerly followed developments have been calling this the 'little green book' to match with Philip Pullman's 'little red book', "Lyra's Oxford" (10/03). But that was only provisionally, as it turned out to be an attractive,dark blue little volume with an extra. One almost expected the fold-out board game. The charming John Lawrence black & white wood-cut illustrations are an attraction in their own right. I even framed my map from "Lyra's Oxford" it's so attractive & one can follow the action of the story as it moves across the city. The recent book features witty dialogue by aeronaut Lee Scoresby; Mr.Pullman shows a good ear for American dialect, in this case Texan,& doesn't overdo it.

For those who might be interested in the author speaking about one of the
inspirations for the entire "His Dark Materials" series,epic poet John Milton, here is the link.(see Comment below)

'Lyra's Oxford was a dark red book. "Once Upon a Time in the North" will be a dark blue book. There still remains a green book. And that will be Will's book. Eventually...'--Philip Pullman

*** "Once Upon a Time in the North" (Audio Version) ***

This excellent audio telling of the story is highly enjoyable. I ordered both book & the Cd box together and read & listened at the same time. It is the second of three projected 'little books'which cover parts of the main story before & after events in "The Golden Compass" ["His Dark Materials"]trilogy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By I. Jamaluddin on April 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I generally don't read the product dimensions for books (barring textbooks) so I was surprised at how compact "Once Upon a Time in the North" is. The cover illustration by John Lawrence is excellent and very striking against the dark blue background. As the book was manufactured in Malaysia, I feel a little home pride. :) A boardgame "Peril of the Pole" is included, nicely illustrated by Lawrence as well. The players (aeronauts) compete to be the final player left on the board (in the air) while navigating the dangers of the North.

"Once Upon a Time in the North" can be a stand-alone since it is primarily a prequel to His Dark Materials trilogy. Three "documents" at the end of the book relate to Lyra, but this is the only indication of characters from HDM. The pictures and "documents" flresh out the story of how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison meet.

A 96-page story, the events are very quick-paced. Scoresby crashlanded in Novy Odense where the oil causes some political intrigue. Ivan Dimitrvoich Poliakov, a candidate for Mayor, builds his campaign on anti-bear sentiments, but profit is behind it. A sinister figure from Lee's past emerges which complicates matters. This story sets a loose background for some of the bears' "fall from grace" that held a part in "The Golden Compass."

The audience seems to be more geared towards teen readers and older as there are references made to sex - it is not consummated, but the yearning for it is baldly there. The climax of the story is also violent, which may not be surprising after His Dark Materials trilogy, but as this is shorter, it may seem more violent.

There are several scenes lightly touching upon the close bond between a human and his/her daemon, but doesn't rehash the scientific explanation of it, of course.
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