Archive for the ‘Philip Pullman’ Category

His Dark Materials, Book III:The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
From the very start of its very first scene, The Amber Spyglass will set hearts fluttering and minds racing. All we’ll say here is that we immediately discover who captured Lyra at the end of The Subtle Knife, though we’ve yet to discern whether this individual’s intent is good, evil, or somewhere in between. We also learn that Will still possesses the blade that allows him to cut between worlds, and has been joined by two winged companions who are determined to escort him to Lord Asriel’s mountain redoubt. The boy, however, has only one goal in mind–to rescue his friend and return to her the alethiometer, an instrument that has revealed so much to her and to readers of The Golden Compass and its follow-up. Within a short time, too, we get to experience the “tingle of the starlight” on Serafina Pekkala’s skin as she seeks out a famished Iorek Byrnison and enlists him in Lord Asriel’s crusade:

A complex web of thoughts was weaving itself in the bear king’s mind, with more strands in it than hunger and satisfaction. There was the memory of the little girl Lyra, whom he had named Silvertongue, and whom he had last seen crossing the fragile snow bridge across a crevasse in his own island of Svalbard. Then there was the agitation among the witches, the rumors of pacts and alliances and war; and then there was the surpassingly strange fact of this new world itself, and the witch’s insistence that there were many more such worlds, and that the fate of them all hung somehow on the fate of the child.

Meanwhile, two factions of the Church are vying to reach Lyra first. One is even prepared to give a priest “preemptive absolution” should he succeed in committing mortal sin. For these tyrants, killing this girl is no less than “a sacred task.”

In the final installment of his trilogy, Philip Pullman has set himself the highest hurdles. He must match its predecessors in terms of sheer action and originality and resolve the enigmas he already created. The good news is that there is no critical bad news–not that The Amber Spyglass doesn’t contain standoffs and close calls galore. (Who would have it otherwise?) But Pullman brings his audacious revision of Paradise Lost to a conclusion that is both serene and devastating. In prose that is transparent yet lyrical and 3-D, the author weaves in and out of his principals’ thoughts. He also offers up several additional worlds. In one, Dr. Mary Malone is welcomed into an apparently simple society. The environment of the mulefa (again, we’ll reveal nothing more) makes them rich in consciousness while their lives possess a slow and stately rhythm. These strange creatures can, however, be very fast on their feet (or on other things entirely) when necessary. Alas, they are on the verge of dying as Dust streams out of their idyllic landscape. Will the Oxford dark-matter researcher see her way to saving them, or does this require our young heroes? And while Mary is puzzling out a cure, Will and Lyra undertake a pilgrimage to a realm devoid of all light and hope, after having been forced into the cruelest of sacrifices–or betrayals.

Throughout his galvanizing epic, Pullman sustains scenes of fierce beauty and tenderness. He also allows us a moment or two of comic respite. At one point, for instance, Lyra’s mother bullies a series of ecclesiastical underlings: “The man bowed helplessly and led her away. The guard behind her blew out his cheeks with relief.” Needless to say, Mrs. Coulter is as intoxicating and fluid as ever. And can it be that we will come to admire her as she plays out her desperate endgame? In this respect, as in many others, The Amber Spyglass is truly a book of revelations, moving from darkness visible to radiant truth. –Kerry Fried

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His Dark Materials, Book II: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
With The Golden Compass Philip Pullman garnered every accolade under the sun. Critics lobbed around such superlatives as “elegant,” “awe-inspiring,” “grand,” and “glittering,” and used “magnificent” with gay abandon. Each reader had a favorite chapter–or, more likely, several–from the opening tour de force to Lyra’s close call at Bolvangar to the great armored-bear battle. And Pullman was no less profligate when it came to intellectual firepower or singular characters. The dæmons alone grant him a place in world literature. Could the second installment of his trilogy keep up this pitch, or had his heroine and her too, too sullied parents consumed him? And what of the belief system that pervaded his alternate universe, not to mention the mystery of Dust? More revelations and an equal number of wonders and new players were definitely in order.

The Subtle Knife offers everything we could have wished for, and more. For a start, there’s a young hero–from our world–who is a match for Lyra Silvertongue and whose destiny is every bit as shattering. Like Lyra, Will Parry has spent his childhood playing games. Unlike hers, though, his have been deadly serious. This 12-year-old long ago learned the art of invisibility: if he could erase himself, no one would discover his mother’s increasing instability and separate them.

As the novel opens, Will’s enemies will do anything for information about his missing father, a soldier and Arctic explorer who has been very much airbrushed from the official picture. Now Will must get his mother into safe seclusion and make his way toward Oxford, which may hold the key to John Parry’s disappearance. But en route and on the lam from both the police and his family’s tormentors, he comes upon a cat with more than a mouse on her mind: “She reached out a paw to pat something in the air in front of her, something quite invisible to Will.” What seems to him a patch of everyday Oxford conceals far more: “The cat stepped forward and vanished.” Will, too, scrambles through and into another oddly deserted landscape–one in which children rule and adults (and felines) are very much at risk. Here in this deathly silent city by the sea, he will soon have a dustup with a fierce, flinty little girl: “Her expression was a mixture of the very young–when she first tasted the cola–and a kind of deep, sad wariness.” Soon Will and Lyra (and, of course, her dæmon, Pantalaimon) uneasily embark on a great adventure and head into greater tragedy.

As Pullman moves between his young warriors and the witch Serafina Pekkala, the magnetic, ever-manipulative Mrs. Coulter, and Lee Scoresby and his hare dæmon, Hester, there are clear signs of approaching war and earthly chaos. There are new faces as well. The author introduces Oxford dark-matter researcher Mary Malone; the Latvian witch queen Ruta Skadi, who “had trafficked with spirits, and it showed”; Stanislaus Grumman, a shaman in search of a weapon crucial to the cause of Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father; and a serpentine old man whom Lyra and Pan can’t quite place. Also on hand are the Specters, beings that make cliff-ghasts look like rank amateurs.

Throughout, Pullman is in absolute control of his several worlds, his plot and pace equal to his inspiration. Any number of astonishing scenes–small- and large-scale–will have readers on edge, and many are cause for tears. “You think things have to be possible,” Will demands. “Things have to be true!” It is Philip Pullman’s gift to turn what quotidian minds would term the impossible into a reality that is both heartbreaking and beautiful. –Kerry Fried

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His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
Some books improve with age–the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman’s heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra’s Oxford is not precisely like our own–nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal daemon, the manifestation of their souls in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied:

As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had daemons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them.

Not that Lyra spends much time worrying about it; what she likes best is “clambering over the College roofs with Roger the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war.” But Lyra’s carefree existence changes forever when she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey daemon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from “gyptians” to witches to an armor-clad polar bear. In The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has written a masterpiece that transcends genre. It is a children’s book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist. Best of all, the author doesn’t speak down to his audience, nor does he pull his punches; there is genuine terror in this book, and heartbreak, betrayal, and loss. There is also love, loyalty, and an abiding morality that infuses the story but never overwhelms it. This is one of those rare novels that one wishes would never end. Fortunately, its sequel, The Subtle Knife, will help put off that inevitability for a while longer. –Alix Wilber

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