Finally, some years later, I stumbled across a boxed set of 'His Dark Materials' in a bookstore, and bought it. I'm maybe 200 pages into the first book, The Golden Compass, and I have to admit...my former co-worker was right.
It /does/ contain all the elements I try to put into my stories, with about the pacing and imagery I prefer to use...only way more polished than my own writing. Which gives it the feeling of reading something I'd write, only I don't know what's happening next. I'm actually enjoying it a great deal.