So, I got into a discussion with someone about The Golden Compass. I think it was Ellie on Twitter. In the process, I realized I only read it once, and it's been years, and all I remember is the truly messed up ending. I figured I'd better reread it. It's a classic and a controversy, and it's good to read those for yourself.
Here is my review: Forget controversy. It's just not very well written. Here is an actual line of dialog from the main character:
'Oh, Pan, dear, I can't go on! I'm so frightened - and so tired - all this way, and I'm scared to death! I wish it was someone else instead of me, I do honestly!'
That may be the hokiest, least convincing, least realistic and most forced piece of dialog in any major novel. It has the emotional impact of soft cheese. In general, all the dialog sounds like a middle school drama play. All of the characters have this same stilted vocal pattern. On the very first page, I was pleased by the realism of a tween girl hiding in a closet to spy on important people because she hadn't through through the consequences, but then she discusses every detail of the moral decision involved with her pet, as if she were an adult.
Overall, characterization is very hit-or-miss. The narrator tells us at one point that Lyra for the first time evaluates herself, her own appearance and actions - and yet a couple of scenes back, she's evaluating which different disguises she can pull off, based on her age and social group.
Oh, yeah, social group. When the children are held captive, the narrator comments that girls only hang out with girls, and boys only hang out with boys, and that's how they like it at that age. This is completely contradicted by Lyra's street urchin antics at the beginning of the book. All these kids come from similar backgrounds, which are depicted clearly as having boys and girls playing together. There's a lot of convenient plot twists, too. In an exposition heavy book, Lyra's father has the ability to wish for things and they show up, which isn't explained. It's just something he can do, apparently because he's a Great Man. The snow bridge which forced Lyra to leave behind her polar bear protector for the final confrontation got an especially mortified facepalm. The book is full of this stuff.
I'm hoping the author learned something writing the first book, and the next two will be better. The basic story is actually pretty neat. I can kinda see the source of religious outrage as well. The moral of the book is not that god is evil. That's just a plot choice. The moral the book pushes is that the things we repress as 'sin' are good things that help us survive and be happy. That could be taken as pretty anti-religious.