The story takes place in a parallel universe to ours, controlled in part by the Magisterium, which guards against heresy. Human souls exist externally in the form of a sentient "dæmon", appearing in animal form which constantly accompany their human. Lyra Belacqua—a 12-year-old girl who has been allowed to run somewhat wild–awaits the arrival of her uncle and guardian, Lord Asriel at Jordan College, a fictional Oxford University college. She spies on him and learns of "Dust", a material that makes magical links. As her uncle leaves Jordan, she meets Mrs Coulter, a beautiful and adventurous woman, and agrees when invited to go and live with her. The Master of the College secretly entrusts Lyra with an alethiometer, a "truth teller" which resembles a silver, many-handed pocket-watch that can answer any question asked by a skilled user. Although unable to read or understand its complex symbols, Lyra takes it with her, and gradually begins to master the device over the course of the narrative.
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