Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Steampunk
Series: His Dark Materials Novella
(Spoilers for His Dark Materials are below).
Twenty-Four year old Lee Scoresby has recently won a hot-air balloon in a game of chance. Since then he's been sailing around the world working freelance. During this particular adventure, he ends up in Novy Odense, a town in the North that has an important election coming up. This election could determine how that town's politics will benefit the wealthy oil contractors that have been slowly discovering more oil and with it more power, and it could have detrimental effects with the local polar bear populations .
Taking place decades before the events in His Dark Materials, Once Upon A Time In The North is a Western of sorts ... one that just happens to be taking place in the arctic. There are new changes on the horizon, corrupt political institutions, desperate gun fights, and of course a hero who's willing to stand up to the man and try and to set things right.
As much as I like Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, a lot of their charm is lost without Lyra being there. This origin story explains how these two came to be friends, and also shows the early formations of each of their personalities. Pullman who's famous for his criticism of organized religion switches gears here and focuses on greedy large corporations and corrupt political institutions instead.
Like Lyra's Oxford, there are a lot of drawings and other visual works interspersed throughout the writing, all of which enhance the reading experience. However, this story is priced at what you would normally pay for a full length novel. I can't help but note the irony of paying for an overpriced story that's critical of greedy corporations.
At the end there are a few more lantern slides, which Pullman uses to give short glimpses of what other characters in The Dark Materials universe are currently up to. Of note in these slides we learn what Lyra is going to study at Oxford and we also see a letter she writes to Malcolm Polstead.
Once Upon A Time In The North is a fun short story to say the least, but there's nothing groundbreaking, at least not in the sense that Pullman is known for. At the end we are left with a fun short story that doesn't get too much deeper than that.