Once Upon A Time in the North by Philip Pullman

Posted September 27, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

Once Upon a Time in the North

Once Upon a Time in the North

by Philip Pullman

Series: His Dark Materials #0.5
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf on April 8, 2008
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Target Age Group: Childrens, Middle Grade, New Adult, Young Adult

Rating: ★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

In this prequel episode from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials universe, Lee Scoresby--Texan aeronaut and future friend to Lyra Belacqua--is just 24 years old, and he's recently won his hot-air balloon in a poker game. He finds himself floating North to the windswept Arctic island of Novy Odense, where he and his hare daemon Hester are quickly tangled in a deadly plot involving oil magnate Larsen Manganese, corrupt mayoral candidate Ivan Poliakov, and Lee's longtime nemesis from the Dakota Country: Pierre McConville, a hired killer with at least twenty murders to his name.

It's only after Lee forms an alliance with one of the island's reviled armored bears that he can fight to break up the conspiracy in a gun-twirling classic western shoot out--and battle of wits.


Welcome back to Lyra’s world.

Once Upon a Time in the North is a fun little novella that gives fans of His Dark Materials a little peek into the life of aeronaut Lee Scorseby, his daemon Hester, and the armored bear Iorek Byrnison.  This story is definitely more of a snapshot than a complete story, and frankly, it just left me with more questions about Lee’s history!  But it was still loads of fun to read a little about these characters outside of their roles in His Dark Materials.

While this book is short, it’s bloody.

Even in his youth, Lee Scorseby has that cowboy-vibe and he’s not afraid to pull out his pistol for the right cause.  This is definitely true of Once Upon a Time in the North, and I say this because the full second half of this book is a gunfight.  The physical copy of the book with its illustrated cover and lightweight pages and generally small size looks a lot like a early reader’s chapter book – I think it’s important that parents know that this is probably not well suited for a seven or eight year old, unless they want to be reading about bulletwounds?  Be ye warned.

Hester is awesome.

One thing that I loved about this novella was Lee’s daemon, Hester.  In the other books, Hester is a relatively quiet little daemon – especially compared to Pan – and we don’t hear a lot about her.  Once Upon a Time in the North starts out much the same way, only Hester begins to unfold, ending in her own fight.  I thought she was very brave, but also delightful.

And, as a little bonus:

If you look through this book, there are loads of scraps and tidbits… shipping ledgers, handwritten notes, and the like.  At the VERY end, there are a few handwritten letters and a certificate of dissertation, which I nearly didn’t read… READ THEM!  The source of this story made me smile.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★
Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★


Oncd Upon a Time in the North will be donated

Listen guys, while I’m tempted to keep this just because it’s an offshoot of a series I love and because it’s such a tiny book… I also know that I won’t read it again.  I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, and sometimes it’s simply best to let these things go.


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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2 responses to “Once Upon A Time in the North by Philip Pullman

  1. I’m doing a re-read of the Dark Materials trilogy right now so I’ll be ready for the new book next month! I read this one (and Lyra’s Oxford) years ago, but I remember really enjoying it. I’ll have to make sure to revisit both of the shorter books too!