From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, May 15, 2008:
“Pullman is as fine a writer as there is for young people, and this book is a small gem.”
This abundant prequel opens the door to Philip Pullman's bestseller The Golden Compass. The adventures begin with an enthralling story about the first encounters of aeronaut balloonist Lee Scoresby and brave Panserbjørn Iorek Byrnison. Once Upon a Time in the North is embellished throughout with art, notes, and ephemera that illuminate Pullman's His Dark Materials universe. The book is further enhanced by a fold-out map and a board game (complete with cards) to give readers even more access to this mythical realm.
This trim novella may lack the grandeur of Pullman's "Dark Materials" triology, to which this is a prequel, but it gives a new tough-guy adventure to one of its unforgettable characters, the pistol-packing ballonist Lee Scoresby.
The New York Times
Fans of the His Dark Materials trilogy will get a kick from this wisp of a novel, which immediately introduces "a lean young man with a large hat, a laconic disposition, and a thin mustache": Pullman offers up the backstory about that legendary Texan, the aeronaut Lee Scoresby, his jackrabbit daemon, Hester, and their first encounter with that other series favorite, the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. But this story reads as a stand alone, too, accessible to those unfamiliar with The Golden Compass and the rest. Bringing in his signature talents for rich scenic description and dramatic action, the story begins as Lee arrives on the island of Novy Odense, looking for work, and instead finds adventure. Notably, Pullman tells the story from Lee's perspective, trading in trilogy heroine Lyra's point of view for that of an adult man. Lee and Iorek team up to help a sea captain save his ship's cargo-unfairly embargoed by a corrupt local politician (he harbors a deep prejudice against armored bears)-and square off against the politician's bodyguard, a hired killer. Readers will appreciate this story's larger-than-life tenor, so fitting for the heroic Lee Scoresby. Kids will enjoy the extras, such as the pull-out board game Peril of the Pole ("for four to six players and their daemons") and "newspaper" clippings. Illustrated throughout with small engravings; final art not seen by PW. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
Lee Scoresby certainly knows how to make an entrance. The first page finds him in a battered cargo balloon over the White Sea. He and his daemon hare Hester are in peril, as the gas valve is stuck. Butjust as may be expected by a hero such as heScoresby manages to throttle it loose and land the balloon. He and Hester disembark in a tense town, where conflict is a frequent occurrence and guns are quick to fire. Readers who have not yet read Pullman's other works may find themselves confused by the world, the daemons, and other details. Still, readers of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series will be thrilled to find out the details of the Texan balloonist's first meeting with his ally, the armored bear known as Iorek Byrnison in this slender prequel. This book belongs alongside those works in a library collection. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 15.
This rip-roaring novella, a prequel to The Golden Compass (Knopf, 1995/VOYA June 1998), centers on the Texan balloonist Lee Scoresby, his daemon Hester, and their first meeting with the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. All three are still quite young. Scoresby, who has only recently won his balloon in a card game, can barely land it without crashing, and Iorek has not yet made his armor, making do with a mere helmet. When Scoresby reaches the northern island of Novy Odense, he is looking for nothing more than a short-term job, but what he finds is a case of injustice that he cannot ignore. A crooked politician named Ivan Poliakov and powerful mining business Larsen Manganese have joined forces to take control of the island and corner its oil rights. Poliakov is running for mayor on a hate-filled platform aimed at exterminating the local armored bears and is also trying to force a ship's captain into bankruptcy by impounding his cargo. Moreover he has hired the murderous Pierre McConville, whom Scoresby previously encountered back in Dakota country, to kill anyone who gets in his way. Featuring appealing characters, an exciting gunfight, insightful political commentary, a variety of mysterious documents similar to those included in Pullman's previous novella, Lyra's Oxford (2003/VOYA June 2004), and a Chutes-and-Ladders-like arctic adventure board game attached to the back cover of the book, this exciting tale should strongly appeal to the author's many fans. Reviewer: Michael Levy
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 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
In his characteristic compactly rewarding prose, Pullman offers another glimpse into the world of His Dark Materials, less heady than Lyra's Oxford (2003) but somberly satisfying. It's 35 years before the trilogy, and young aeronaut Lee Scoresby has put down on Novy Odense in the North, looking for work and adventure. He finds the latter in spades. A corrupt corporation and a sleazy politician are obstructing a schooner's Captain from claiming his own cargo. Lee throws himself recklessly onto the side of good, operating on instinct and fearlessness. A bear-whom Lee thinks is named York Burningson-joins the deadly skirmish, shoving an enemy tanker-gun into the harbor while Lee engages in a gunfight in a warehouse. Scrawny, sardonic Hester-Lee's daemon-plays a key role in defeating a vicious hired gun. This small, neat volume won't hook newcomers, but its delving into beloved characters' backstories will please trilogy fans of all ages. Elegantly decorated with Lawrence's engravings and faux-realia, it is both understated and lovely. (foldout game) (Fantasy. 12+)