This is the final installment of Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials and I found myself blown away by the imagination, the complexities of the different worlds, and the innovative ways that he added depth to his characters. I read somewhere someone called this work a modern Paradise Lost and this book was definitely that way. I could finally see where the anti-Christian ideas surrounding these books came from, but it wasn't anymore anti-Christian than what I'm sure surrounded Milton's work in the 17th century. They are taking the Christian myth of the fall and recreating it in a way that either makes more sense or they find more interesting. Similar stories have been told before, but because they don't call the characters Eve or Enoch or whatever, it isn't always quite as apparent what the allusion is to.
I enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed reading anything else in a long time. I found myself feeling satisfied that Pullman didn't end the book in the "they all lived happily ever after" tone - it does have some very bittersweet moments in it, but that makes it more "real" (as much so as a fantasy combination of worlds can be real anway) and I would have absolutely no hesitation recommending this book to readers above 13 (incidently that was the audience Pullman originally wrote for in the first place)
Just as a side note - I have spent some time on Phillip Pullman's website, reading his articles that he wrote about reading and writing in schools and his work in general. (if you are interested click here) I really liked his explanation of the works. He is not atheist, he is agnostic, and he challenges "the church" because he finds it ridiculous that people can do things that in our society we would be shocked and dismayed by, but because they say they are doing it in the name of religion, our society has given them a stamp of approval. As I mentioned before, I felt this was really aiming at the Catholic church, and really, their history of things they have done in the name of religion is less than stellar.