It’s been some time since Philip Pullman has published anything set in the world of His Dark Materials; the last offering was a very short story called Lyra’s Oxford. In Once Upon a Time in the North, Pullman returns with an original tale about Lee Scoresby the aeronaut, weighing in at just under a hundred pages – and while fans would wish for three times as much, it’s certainly much better than nothing.
In a poker game in his native Texas, twenty-four year old Lee Scoresby has just won his very own hot air balloon and half an instruction manual. His first voyage takes him across the world to the Arctic waters where he lands at Novy Odense. Looking for a place to stay and a way to make some money, Scoresby is immediately embroiled in the complex politics of the town. Mayoral candidate Ivan Poliakov hopes to take care of the “bear problem,” supported by the shady Larsen Manganese group. Taking no one’s side, but not wanting the town to be exploited, Lee soon befriends a polar bear by the name of Iorek Byrnison – whom he mistakenly calls York – and finds himself in a fierce gun battle involving a hired killer with a familiar face on the other side.
Once Upon a Time in the North is a great adventure tale with – at first glance – an entertaining and straightforward story. But in Pullman’s usual style, there is a deeper and more complex subplot that is not fully explained or resolved here. So fans can hope that there is more to tell in the world of His Dark Materials. And if that were not enough, Pullman also created a special board game for the book, which is included as an insert to the inside back cover.
If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Originally written on April 11th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.