Lyra is an adventurous eleven-year-old orphan brought up by the scholars of Oxford in a world that is similar to ours in a previous century. In this world, every person has a daemon, an animal creature who is always with the person and who shares the person’s feelings. Until a child reaches puberty, the daemon changes from one animal to another.
Lyra is a bit of a wild child who spends most of her time clambering on the college roofs with her friend Roger, the kitchen boy, and getting into fights with the town kids. She has heard rumors of the Gobblers, a group who steals children, but she hasn’t paid much attention to them. Her real adventures begin the day she sneaks into the scholar’s room, where she is not supposed to be. She is hiding when she overhears a mysterious conversation about something called “dust” and sees the Master poison her Uncle Asriel’s wine. She is able to warn her uncle in time.
After her uncle departs on an expedition to the north, her friend Roger is stolen by the Gobblers. Then Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are removed from Oxford by the beautiful and mysterious Mrs. Coulter and taken to London. Before she leaves, the Master gives her the golden compass, a device that can tell the future, and says she should hide it from Mrs. Coulter.
Lyra flees from Mrs. Coulter’s house when she learns that Mrs. Coulter’s monkey daemon has been spying for the compass and also figures out that Mrs. Coulter is one of the Gobblers. She throws her lot in with a gang of the gyptians, a tribe of wanderers who have joined forces to go north and fetch back the stolen children.
The Golden Compass is wonderfully inventive. Just as a side note, I also greatly admired the movie, with its cool steampunk look. Lyra is a great heroine, you just love Pantalaimon, and you get very attached to many of the other characters. Full of action and suspense, The Golden Compass is a great book.