Iowa City Public Library's Reviews > Once Upon a Time in the North

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman
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's review
Jul 20, 2010

bookshelves: jason, staff-picks-blog, young-adult

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy may have some faults *cough*Book3*cough*, but it is surely a classic of contemporary fantasy fiction. The story arcs were complex and allegorical, the addition of personal animal daemons was flat out rocking, and he created some memorable characters in Lyra Belacqua, Mrs. Coulter, Iorek Byrnison (the armored bear) and Lee Scoresby (Texan gunfighter).

It’s these last two characters that are featured in an adventure novella prequel Once Upon a Time in the North. We join Lee and his laid back rabbit daemon, Hester, as they land their balloon in a harbor port on an island in a northern sea. The town here is in the midst of a tight Mayoral election with the surging challenger in cahoots with a large mining company. This same company seems to be slyly tightening its grip on the political processes in the town and has used legalese to hold up a Captain’s tanker filled with mining equipment in order to have it impounded and auctioned off at a low price. Meanwhile the bear population is shunted off to the outskirts performing manual labor and banned from wearing any of their signature armor (much like in the early HDM trilogy). But now the meddling Lee and Hester are in town and they just can’t let those bad guys win. (cue Morricone whistling soundtrack)

Most of the novella is taken up with a gripping and violent gunfight that should grant the Captain a cover to load his cargo and flee. I do wish Pullman had bit the bullet and spent some time fleshing out the overall story to make a full-length novel. He has really chickened out with this easier method of publishing the HDM novellas (see also Lyra’s Oxford). Though I’m definitely partial to fiction with a surly, armored, talking bear and a quiet, Clint Eastwoodesque gunfighter having rollicking adventures, so I’ll let this one slide. --Jason

From ICPL Staff Picks Blog

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