In this prequel episode from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials universe, Lee Scoresby — Texan aeronaut and future friend to Lyra Belacqua — is 24 years old. The story reveals the origins of Scoresby’s friendship with Iorek Byrnison as well as Scoresby’s aeronautical career.
After winning his hot-air balloon in a poker game, Scoresby finds himself floating north. On the Arctic island of Novy Odense, Scoresby and his dæmon Hester become involved in a deadly plot involving an oil magnate, a corrupt mayoral candidate, and a hired killer who is Lee’s longtime nemesis from the Dakota Country. Forming an alliance with one of the island’s reviled armored bears, Scoresby fights to break up the conspiracy.
This novella is a prequel of sorts to His Dark Materials; it is an episode in the past of characters Lee Scoresby and his dæmon Hester. It has little to do with the actual trilogy, it is more an expansion at the characters themselves.
The language is beautiful, it is simple, elegant, clever, humerous and sarcastic. Lee is a true gentleman and an honest fighter which adds a great deal of class to the story. The plot itself is one of corruption and scandal, with the right amount of wit and action to make it engaging.
Pullman hides many clues and hints through this story about the armoured bears, about Lee’s past and future, and those who know the references will delight in discovering them. But these clues are not spoilers, nor do they feel out of place in the story. Pullman connects everything remarkably well, but also makes sure the story stands on its own, a story about an adventure in Lee’s past and not a story that acts as an obvious prequel.
Lee’s character is explored in extra detail but he remains the same person we see later in his life. His sense of justice and doing the right thing, as well as the way he assesses people and discovers true intentions with charm and wit. His strong ethics are on show as well which makes the story even more wonderful to read. A lot of this is evident in the trilogy, Lee’s good character shines through remarkably well, but it is great to see it play out in numerous situations and to see it is just as refined when he is younger. In addition, the relationship between Lee and Hester is as always a delight to read about. Hester looks out for Lee and him her, and she is a great asset in everything he does.
The length may be short, but it has everything you need within it. It is complete, complicated, interesting and engaging. There are conflicts and friendship, and a whole world captured with detail and creativity. The design on the book makes it even more fun, not only the additional extras that come with it but the pocket-sized adventure makes it feel like the mini adventure it is supposed to be.
You can purchase Once Upon A Time in the North via the following