Once Upon a Time in the North

Knopf. (His Dark Materials). Nov. 2023. 176p. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780593652190.
Gr 5 Up–Two of the most beloved characters from Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, get their own novella, giving readers a glimpse into their initial meeting and friendship. Set many years before the events of the original series, readers meet 24-year-old Lee, who has just won his first hot air balloon in a poker game. He and his daemon Hester have landed on an island called Novy Odense, and he’s hoping to find work there. Lee quickly notices bears hanging about; some working, some sleeping, but the townspeople mostly ignore them. He’s never seen such a thing, and after striking up a conversation with a stranger at lunch, learns that the town is abuzz with the impending mayoral election. The front-runner is a candidate named Poliakov who is running on an “anti-bear” platform, painting bears as a scourge on society. Poliakov sees that Lee carries a firearm, and offers him work protecting a piece of his property. But when Lee sees another of Poliakov’s hired guns, he recognizes him from his past, and knows he needs to keep his guard up. A short but rip-roaring adventure follows as Lee and Iorek team up against Poliakov and lots of other bad guys. Lee’s characteristic wry humor is on full display here, and Hester is as sassy and endearing as ever. Lovely, full-color artwork is interspersed every few pages of text and truly enhances the beautifully written story.
VERDICT Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” is a modern classic, and this is a sweet addition to that world. It’s a must-have for libraries.

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