I think the most important question is: how has it taken me this long to read The Golden Compass, the first book in His Dark Materials, a beloved YA fantasy series by Philip Pullman. I suppose it's because it came out in 1995 and I was just a few years out of college at that point, not spending much of my time reading YA fantasy. But now that I am much, much older, I am happy to have discovered the series.
The Golden Compass follows young Lyra Belacqua and her shape-shifting daemon Pantalaimon as they discover that the world is much bigger and more complicated than they were led to believe. At first ensconced among the aged academics at Jordan College, Lyra has run wild for the first twelve years of her life. But children have started disappearing in the town and strange deals are being struck behind the College's closed doors, and Lyra soon finds herself at the center of it.
There is a lot of world-building on which to come up to speed quickly here, daemons (an animal familiar, bonded to every person at birth, which can shapeshift until its human partner reaches puberty at which point the daemon settles into its truest form) and armored polar bears and canal-dwelling gypsies and hot air balloons and treacherous relatives and dead children and the Northern Lights. I got sucked in quickly, my interest only fading slightly towards the very end when it was apparent that things were winding towards the next book in the series. Lyra is an interesting, imperfect protagonist - I am looking forward to seeing what she gets up to next.
18 hours ago