This book dropped onto my doormat a little over two weeks ago. The first thing you notice is the size of the book, it is very thick. This is a portend of the extreme levels of detail that are about to be uncovered.
The first impression of the book is very good. The front and back cover have a stylisation of the Northern Lights on it, in a shiny, almost metallic look. The foreword for the book is written by Philip Pullman, in which he praises very highly the skills of the author and the usefulness of the book. A similar comment is made in his October message on his website. The author's introduction to the book explains the purpose of the book and the purpose behind it. She also mentions HDM.org and Btts.net, and refers to the fans as "sraffies" showing that the research done has encompassed far more than just the books.
However, as encouraging as these things are, the most important thing about a book is it's content, so lets move on to that. At first, I tried to read the book through cover to cover, but within a few pages I realised this is not what it is designed for. This is not a conventional book, this is more of an encyclopaedia,(The author chooses to call it an "Index") similar to what our own srafopedia aims to become one day. Contained within it are records so detailed it is almost frightening.
The book is divided into twelve sections, including the ones you would suspect, such as "Characters and Places", but also less likely ones like "Applied Metaphysics" (Covering things like the I-Ching) and "Social Structures of the Worlds". Basically, if it has been mentioned in the books, it almost certainly has a reference in this book. These range in length from single lines through to five page entries.
The entries themselves have a very specific layout. Each entry's name is immediately followed by a little symbol, or combination of symbols, to tell you in which books they occur (Lyra's Oxford is not included, but does have some references). There then follows a summary of the character/place/things role and any other facts known about it. There is then a list of the page numbers (In both British and American version) that the entry appears in.
On it's own, this is very interesting, but not a reason for most people to buy a copy. However inter spaced in the book are many, many little factoids. These range from quotes from Philip Pullman of various things, to possible parallels in history from lyra's to Will's world, to logical speculation about unknowns. There are also pages of maps, and hundreds of photos, which are fascinating to look through (Even of some of the printing on the photos is decidedly unclear). I have read His Dark Materials more times than I care to remember, and yet in reading through these bits, I was able to learn more, and think about things that I hadn't previously. The other thing that I found very useful were the boxes which contain conversions of Lyra's world things to our version of them (e.g. Nippon = Japan). These little nuggets, added to the vast wealth of information, makes it a very, very useful book. Anyone researching HDM, or attempting to write a fan-fic: This is an essential book, that will make your work much much easier. To everyone else: If you are a fan of the books, who continually re-reads them (As I do) this book will be a very interesting addition to your collection, and I highly recommend it. It is very interesting when you find anomalies or little things that you are unsure of to be able to look them up. If however, you are someone who has only read the books through once or twice, and are not going to do it again, it would not be worthwhile for you to buy it.