It's kind of tricky writing a review of a book that's been out for 12 years already, has been reviewed a jillion times, has been made into a movie, and has raised the hackles of the religious right, left, and middle. But I promised, so here's my take on The Golden Compass:
It's good. It's a good story, fantastically imaginative, with complex, believable, sympathetic characters. The action and adventure scenes were particularly taut and gripping. I haven't seen the movie, but the story definitely has potential for transfer to the big screen.
If I hadn't been aware of all the religious ruckus that the trilogy (His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman) has stirred up, I would not have made any connection to issues of faith. This might be different in the later books--Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College and Jeffrey Overstreet of Christianity Today definitely think so. Overstreet says, "...my favorite characters began to lose their personality and color, as Pullman’s agenda became more important than characterization."
The first book has the power to pull you into wanting to read the next book, and the next--except for one thing: somewhere around chapter 21, with about 40 pages left in the book, I started to get confused about the story and the characters. The story-telling seemed to shift somehow, and suddenly I wasn't sure who was good and who was evil.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, the emphasis on exposition in these last three chapters seems forced, seems to break the "show, don't tell" rule of story-telling. To tell the truth, this annoyed me enough that I probably won't read the next two books, unless I need to in order to have conversations about them with my kids.
And that brings me to my final point about the Dark Materials trilogy: I agree with Overstreet that believers need not fear or boycott these books--but it's always a good idea to talk to your kids about the ideas and messages that they're taking in, and to help them think critically.
This is true whether they're reading articles in Ms. magazine, a health textbook at school, or popular fiction by a talented atheist with an agenda.