Honestly, I can only come up with two words for this book: absolutely fan-fucking-tastic.
Synopsis: Lyra is an 11 year old girl who lives at Jordan college in Oxford where she is more or less allowed to run wild. When her friend Roger and her uncle Asriel both disappear she is drawn into an adventure that takes her to the cold north and beyond.
The vision of this book is certainly nothing new; ayoung child on a big adventure, however its expertly woven with questions and mystery. The entire plot start to finish almost is a mystery, it keeps you guessing, feeds you answers a little at a time and makes for a real page turner.
Central to the plot are 'daemons' visible animal manifestations of a person's soul that everyone in Lyra's world possesses. I found the concept unusual and very interesting, but I sort of felt that they made some of the characters a little transparent. I mean if the daemon is a reflection of the person, you can make a guess at the person and their role within the book by what kind of daemon they are given.
The other (minor) problem I had with the story is that the plot's central issue is a problem that no one can actually relate to. At best it would be an abstract concept for a real person to empathize with.
Additionally, although I didn't find it to be an issue if you happen to be a religious person this might be one to avoid. The book contains hints of distinctive anti-religious overtones that as I understand it grow more distinct in the next two books.
Phillip Pullman is quoted as saying:
"I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak... Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God".
Anyway, all in all it was a great read and I can't wait to get to the next two books although I'm not really sure when I'll be able to :(