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As the first book in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass introduces readers to the fantastic alternate world in which Lyra lives. She is raised in a recognizable Oxford (completely with stuffy Scholars), but must run away with the Gyptians in order to escape the cruel, beautiful, entrancing Mrs. Coulter. There are talking bears (the Panserbjorne), witches, and the nomadic Gyptians along the way... not to mention the otherworldly golden compass entrusted to Lyra's care. In terms of complexity, this novels resides between Lewis & Tolkien. The motives of the character are multi-faceted and cannot be categorized as clearly good or evil, but Pullman does not go as far as to establish an elaborate, Tokien-esque stage. It's a fun read with interesting thematic overtones -- some people argue that Pullman paints the Fall of Man as a positive & necessary thing -- but not the finest series I've ever encountered.