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'She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once. He could find food, and show her how to reach Oxford, and those were powers that were useful, but he might still have been untrustworthy or cowardly. A murderer was a worthy companion. She felt as safe with him as she'd done with Iorek Byrnison the armoured bear.'
This is the second installment in the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman. The story of Lyra Belacqua continues in a tropical World called Cittàgazze, where Adults are absent, and the Children fend for themselves. Lyra walked into this World at the end of the first book, after her Uncle, Lord Asriel, opened a gateaway between Worlds.
Lyra meets Will, a boy from a World much like her own, but with many differences. Will stumbled into the World accidentally after running away from some men that were following him. Lyra's alethiometer, the instrument she uses to discover truth, tells her that she must find Will's father, who disappeared from Will's world many years ago.
Lyra and Will seek out his Father together, battling through obstacles and ending up in the middle of a huge war between Mortals, Spirits, Witches and Beasts from different Worlds. They must find a way to get to Will's father and save not only their own Worlds, but the hundreds of Worlds connected.
So this is the second book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy and it certainly didn't disappoint. The book is action packed from the start, and there's never a dull moment. I've actually made creases in the cover of this book, from gripping it so tight(I've never done that before.)Lyra seems to have met her match when she crosses paths with Will making for an enjoyable read, full of laughs and tears. It's a fantastic sequel to The Northern Lights/The Golden Compass.
Phillip Pullman's books are a delight to read. His characters are written incredibly, and the plot moves at a good pace, without giving away too much too soon, and keeps the reader interested. A Fantastic Author, worthy of high praise.
** The last shall be first **
It's not often that I'll begin a review of a novel by talking about the book's ending, but in the case of The Subtle Knife, the middle volume of Philip Pullman's extremely fine His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, I'm going to make an exception. No, don't worry, I'm not going to give away the details of precisely what happens... but what I will say is that in my view the last two chapters of this work are the strongest in the whole novel, and by themselves contain as much drama, excitement and heartbreak as you will find in an awful lot of entire books. One particular scene on a rocky mountainside is almost unbearable.
Unlike its predecessor ( Northern Lights ) this book is not really capable of being read as a standalone adventure: you must know what has happened earlier to make any sense at all of what happens here. However, right at the beginning of The Subtle Knife the reader is plunged without warning into - quite literally - an entirely unexpected new world: our own. We meet Will, a 12-year-old English boy who as the story opens is trying to find a safe place for his mentally ill mother - he is being hunted by mysterious figures after an equally mysterious writing case belonging to his late father... one of whom he accidentally kills during their break-in.
** Something old, something new **
The reader who has wallowed with glee in the world of Lyra, so gorgeously described by Pullman in Northern Lights, may well be both startled and a little disappointed by this seemingly wrenching change of scene. Pullman seems to have given up on fantasy and instead to have started writing a modern-day thriller. (Well, a 1990s one: cellphones and computers exist, but at one point Will needs to find a phone box to call somebody.) Be patient, however, as you will be meeting Lyra again before long. However, it will be in neither her world nor Will's and our own: as some editions (including mine) state quite clearly in an introductory note, The Subtle Knife moves between no fewer than three different universes.
Many people will remember the controversial nature of His Dark Materials in certain religious circles, especially in the United States, but may have been surprised by how tame the first book actually was on such matters. It is in this second volume where things gradually begin to make sense from that point of view, though still not so strongly as they do in the final book, The Amber Spyglass. It is in The Subtle Knife, for example, that we first come across Pullman's idea of angels - and in several ways they are not quite the beings that the average vicar would probably have taught about! The nature of the subtle knife itself, only partially revealed in this volume, might also give certain denominations pause.
** Pullman book in "not perfect" shock **
The Subtle Knife is a little shorter than Northern Lights, at 340 pages rather than the first book's 400, and in truth I have a sneaking pleasure that this is so. It's still a very good tale indeed, but I don't feel that it is quite up to the astonishingly high standards of its predecessor. Once or twice I did find my attention starting to wander, and - although it thankfully wasn't dragged out for all that long - there was one major plot point where the hint in the text seemed utterly obvious and where I was therefore less than convinced that none of the (generally intelligent) characters who knew it would have put two and two together.
My other slight unhappiness is with the character of Will himself. I don't think he's as interesting and deep a person as is Lyra, and I think part of the reason for that is that he's just too good. That's not to say that he doesn't have his flaws, but while he just about avoids becoming some sort of superhero he does seem to behave in a tremendously principled and well-thought-out way that it's hard to believe a lost and frightened 12-year-old child would. Lyra, as we saw in Northern Lights, does and says all sorts of things that go wrong, or are received poorly, or that put others in danger. Will seems to hark back to 1950s "strong and steadfast" young-adult heroes, and it's a little annoying.
Those small complaints aside, The Subtle Knife is still a very readable book, and it's nice that Pullman brings back the odd minor character from Northern Lights and develops them into central figures - some of them moving between worlds as much as do Will and Lyra. (I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that Will and Lyra do meet and join forces quite early on.) It gradually becomes clear just what a vast canvas this trilogy is painted on, and although by the end of the book it's still unclear exactly what part the two children will play in the course of events, we can be fairly sure that they will be at the centre of whatever transpires in the final volume.
** Buying and verdict **
I bought this particular edition largely because of its gorgeous cover design, but as with the first volume in this issue it also includes as an Appendix a selection of "papers", in this case those of Dr Stanislaus Grumman, the Arctic explorer. Don't read these until after you have finished the novel, not least because the Appendix's opening page includes a major spoiler as to Grumman's identity! You shouldn't have to pay more than £5 or so for a paperback copy of The Subtle Knife, and although it's not worth the utterly gushing praise I lavished on its prequel it's still a four-and-a-half star book - lifted to five by those beautifully terrifying last two chapters.
I recently reviewed Northern Lights, the critically acclaimed first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy. This is, in my opinion, justifiably the best-known and most praised of the three books, but although Northern Lights concludes well, there is a clear sense that the story is not over; in fact, it is only beginning.
The Subtle Knife begins with the introduction of Will, a twelve-year-old boy from Winchester, who lives with his mother. This town is unlike Lyra's, as it is in the world we know. This strikes a somewhat unusual note, if you're expecting more of Lyra's world initially. Will deposits his mother with a family acquaintance, an accident happens, and Will becomes a fugitive, ultimately finding himself somewhere he would never have dreamed to end up. Here he meets Lyra, and I shall spoil no more for those who have yet to read this book.
As Northern Lights is, this book seems geared towards the somewhat younger reader. I first read it aged around 11 or 12, although I didn't fully understand some of the themes discussed until much later. In my opinion this is a great appeal: a book you can read over and over and always gain something from a reading is a precious thing indeed. Even now, in my 20s, I would happily read this and take something from it I've not really thought about before, and I daresay there are some considerably older and wiser than me who might appreciate it!
As the second book of three, I would not recommend reading this as a stand-alone novel. This is despite the fact that terms are explained well, but due to the nature of the characters and their journeys; I would feel as though I was missing a great deal if I had missed Lyra's development and personality through Northern Lights, and it would also decrease some of the suspense with regard to the villains, as their identity is pretty crucial.
The characters, both new and old, are -as in Northern Lights- wonderfully three-dimensional. Will is a fierce little boy, made so by his gradual gaining of understanding in the merciless nature of the world around him, and Lyra is very similar, but driven by very different motives. Even Lyra's daemon, Pantalaimon, holds his own as a main character. The focus of the main force of evil in this book shifts slightly, but this adds depth to the story and is really only a good thing.
Overall I would recommend this as part of the trilogy, but by itself it doesn't really work. It also ends on a massive cliffhanger, leaving it feeling like I find with so many second of three books, a little bit awkward, as there may be quite a clear beginning but no clear end. This is really my only criticism, and can be remedied easily by buying the three books in one go...
I'd like to give it 9/10, as 4/5 seems a little harsh, and it's not perfect.
The Subtle Knife is a book I read a couple of years ago. It is part of a series, and is the second book in the series after The Golden Compass and before The Amber Spyglass. The series is called His Dark Materials trilogy. A film has been made of The Golden Compass a few years back starring Nicole Kidman just in case you were wondering.
The book was written by Philip Pullman and was published by Scholastic Ltd in 1997. Philip Pullman is a children's writer whose books are mainly fantasy. This book comes from the genres of sci fi and fantasy.
It was my mum who bought me the trilogy because she had heard a lot of good things about it. This book is very highly critically acclaimed. I loved the Harry Potter series and she thought this might be similar but to be honest I don't think it is and if you're a fan of the Potter like me then you might agree with me if you have read this trilogy that the Harry Potter books are a million times better.
The book focuses on a world which is very similar to ours, except for some small differences such as the people in this world have their souls living outside their bodies in animal form, like a pet which follows them everywhere. If they are separated from them then they are never complete again.
The main characters in this book are two children, whose names are Will and Lyra. They are both likeable characters. Lyra has a mission in this book that she is extremely determined to carry out and will let nothing get in her way - I won't say what for fear of spoiling the story but trust me it is interesting, exciting and unusual.
This book is so imaginative and creative. It is really fantastic. I'm not usually into science fiction but I would make exceptions for this book.
I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, although my mum enjoyed it twice as much as I did so maybe it is more suited to adults even though it is supposed to be young teenage fiction.
The Subtle Knife is the second book and the Dark Materials trilogy and follows Northern Lights, both by Phillip Pullman.
Northern Lights ends with Iorek Byrnison, and armoured bear, defeating the current bear king of Svalbard and taking his place. Lyra Belacqua and her daemon pan spent the first novel travelling to Svalbard with the Gyptians to rescue her friend Roger who had been taken by the Gobblers. At the end of Northern lights she rescues him and goes to rescue her Uncle Asriel, who has been held prisoner at Svalbard under its old rule. He uses Roger to sever him from his daemon, as the energy from such a severance makes an opening between world, which Asriel travels through.
The Subtle Knife is very different from Northern Lights, which has Lyra as its main character throughout the entire book. This novel starts in our world with a boy called Will Parry, who is the same age is Lyra and has spent his childhood looking after his mum who has mental health problems. He finds someone to look after her from the time being and then goes home to take something with him that men have been going to his house to look for. But when he gets there the men are there, and in escaping her kills one. Not knowing where to go he ends up in Oxford where he sees a cat dissapear as its walking amongst some trees. When he goes to investigate he sees a square cut into the air which leads to an entirely different world. As a murderer he can think of no better place to hide, so he leaves for Cittagazze.
Lyra is also in this city and she and Will meet, and begin to help each other out, even though Lyra thinks that Will is terribly strange as he doesn't have a Daemon. They go into Wills Oxford so that Will can try to find out more information about his estranged father, and so that Lyra can find more out about dust. Reading the alethiometer takes her to Dr Mary Malone, who is also studying dust. Lyra goes back to talk to Mary the next day, and on the way back her alethiometer is stolen by Sir Charles Latrom, who she had met in Wills Oxford previously. He tells her that she can have it back, but only if she goes to Cittagazze and brings him an object called 'the subtle knife'. Will and Lyra manage to find the whereabouts of the knife, and Will becomes its master by accidentally killing its old master.
On discovering that the knife is used to cut through to other world they decide to use it to steal the alethiometer from Sir Charles. Here they find out that he is infact Lord Boreal, and from Lyras world, and in his room is Mrs Coulter. They manage to steal the alethiometer but are discovered doing so and only just escape.
Not knowing what to do now Will and Lyra go back to Cittagazze and search for Wills father. They are protected by the witches of Lyras world while they do so but there is soon trouble and Will and Lyra become separated. Will needs too look for Lyra and two angels agree to help, he also needs to find his father and hear the message he has for him, whilst Lyra must escape the clutches of the church and the fate they have in store for her, after they have heard an unusual prediction about her.
As Northern Lights was in just one world, this moves between two quite a lot, and there is still the connection to Lyras world. There are also two main characters now, as Will plays a very main part in the story, which means that there are less small characters featured in the novel. However, you do see a lot of the witches in the book, which I love, and the edition of the two angels at the end took me by surprise.
This book really has a different feel to it, most probably because of the addition of Will, you get to read about a very different personality than the Lyra that you're used to from Northern Lights. Also, the story is drastically different. The story does follow on from where it left off, but this isn't about the travels of Lyra any more. It gets a lot darker and more complicated and you find out a lot of important points in the plot. Lyra and Will both have their own self set tasks but they come together to help each other quite fast.
The church (the magisterial) becomes more important in the Subtle Knife where as in Northern Lights it was kind of in the background to Lyras story, and the part it really played in it only came out later on. However, now the reader knows the severity of the church, and they are still searching for Lyra, with the help of her mother, Mrs Coulter, who works for them. Lord Asriel is working directly against the church now, and rallying troupes to fight a war which started long ago. This really plays a huge part in the final book, and this book prepares the reader for that. Infact, a lot is set up in this book for the final one, and it is understandable that that had to happen, but i think it's done quite well, and it doesn't seem to detract from the quality of the subtle knife.
This book has a bit of an older feel than the last, it's not just a thoughtless story, there's a lot going on. Therefore I think slightly older children would like it more, younger ones might feel a bit bowled over by this point, and of course, I think it's a great childrens book for adults to read.
The second book in the famous 'His Dark Materials' trilogy is certainly darker than the preceding novel. In 'Northern Lights' wild-child and apparent orphan Lyra Belacqua had to struggle against the adults she knew to try to save children who were going missing, and explore the mystery of dust. Now, in 'The Subtle Knife', Lyra moves between three worlds, each of which contains dangerous enemies who view her life - and death? - as crucial in fulfilling an old prophecy. As her pursuers close in, can Lyra discover the truth about dust - and her destiny?
Pullman's series has been compared favourably to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Having read neither of these, I cannot comment on the validity of these comparisons. However, I think it is sufficiently revealing though that while I won't read Rowling and couldn't read Tolkien (I gave up after a mere thirty pages) I have enjoyed both books in this trilogy so far. I'm not usually a fan of fantasy, as it tends to irritate me in its limitless acceptance of boundary pushing. ("It'd be useful if this character could fly. Shall we make them fly?" "Yeah, and let's also make them able to balance a piano on their nose, just for a laugh.") The joy in this series though is that the characters continue to 'ground' the surreal events. Our heroine, Lyra, is astonishingly pleased to discover that her new companion is a murderer - because it means that he is not a coward. A scientist worries that her work is coming dangerously close to 'good' and 'evil' - vague notions that she became a scientist to avoid. Pullman's characters are unquestionably people, regardless of where they keep their souls.
This reality is created from the opening of the novel which, somewhat surprisingly, does not focus on Lyra, but on new character, Will. A young boy with much on his mind, Will's tender but slightly awkward interaction with his mother soon melted my heart and meant that I was fully engaged in his story. This soon meets up with Lyra's and an odd relationship begins, one in which Will's carefully-maintained caution makes him curse Lyra's impetuous solutions. It was interesting to see how two such different characters, almost equally alone in the world, were able to interact and work together in a bid to achieve their own ends. Lyra's aims have already been mentioned; Will's seem slightly more limited as he seeks to discover the truth and destiny of his explorer father, but it quickly becomes apparent that the quests of the children overlap in significant ways. The sections between the two children are convincing and naturalistic, which is probably why I was able to enjoy reading much of this fantastical story.
However, the witches were another story. They fly, they cast spells, and, perhaps most problematically, they have names like Serafina Pekkala. I mean, really? Somehow, this society seemed far less credible than the bear society Pullman created in 'Northern Lights'. Possibly this is because there is so much already written about witches that it seems too obviously clichéd when they have meetings between coven leaders and discuss curses. The fighting bears were perhaps so enjoyable because they were so fresh and therefore vivid. The witch scenes seemed dull and I found myself almost skimming them to move on to other, more engaging parts of the story.
Similarly, the discovery of a magical sword seemed slightly flat and overly-hyped for such a conventional trope of fantasy. The elaborate handing over of the sword and brief training that the destined character receives all felt slightly old-hat, although that may be because I have read King Arthur so often! On the other hand, cutting open windows between worlds, another new idea (to me, at least), was conveyed credibly and used to good effect as a dramatic device.
Gradually, the whole novel took on the feel of a long journey, as all the groups of characters set off on epic missions to find other characters. This is where I often end up getting a bit impatient, because I'm not really interested in all the detailed scenic views this can entail. Pleasingly, Pullman usually keeps the journeying scenes quite fresh because there is still a sense of action and events unfolding. Since this is the second in the trilogy, these journeys are still in progress at the novel's conclusion, although some minor stories have been resolved. These minor stories were all created within the worlds of this novel, which led me to wonder how much I'd miss if I skipped straight from the first to the third novel in the trilogy. Of course, that may be my inner critic just having a grumble because there were no bears in this instalment!
After an engaging start, much of the later novel feels like preparation for the third instalment, which is a shame, given the quality of Pullman's writing. I will read the third instalment to reach the answers - and find out what happened to Will's mother - but I'm not itching to read it. This could be seen as quite positive, since I'm able to view it to some extent as a standalone novel rather than simply part of a trilogy, but also fairly negative, since I'm not so involved in the story that I have to know what happens next. It could just highlight the fact that I was rather tired by the time I finished reading this, as I devoted a couple of days to it almost solidly. This was partly because I had the time for once (or pretended I did) and partly because each chapter ended in a way that meant I wanted to see how events developed (without endings being hideously cliff-hanger-ish). Ultimately, I would recommend this to those who enjoyed 'Northern Lights', but with the caveat that this is slightly more fantastical in nature and ends on a real cliff-hanger that will undoubtedly have most people wondering how to get their hands on volume three.
The Subtle Knife is part of a three book series beginning with the Golden compass and ending with Amber Spyglass.I have read this who series and would really recommend it to anyone looking for a science fiction series. The books really let your imagination and The subtle Knife is action packed.
It starts off when A boy by the name of Will stumbles across a window leading to alternative world to his own.This World is an exact replica of his own except its full of magic and everyone has there own daemon(there soul represented by an animal that if dies that person dies as well)He then meets a young girl by the name of lara who has a golden compass which reveals the truth about anything as well as the future.
When a man steals lara's compass he forces them to go in search of a magic knife also known as the subtle knife which has the ability to open doors to other worlds.The Knife also has the ability to cut through any material from steel to anything you can imagine though the ability to go into other worlds comes with a price it creates evil spirits who kill grown ups.
The subtle Knife will eventually be made into a movie.currently Plans for the movie are on hold because of the current rescission in USA.You can get updates on www.Imdb.com on the status of the movie.The authors name is Philip Pulman
Please not this review is also on ciao as my username jonathan21
This is possibly my favourite in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy - I am not sure. I change my mind about that on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes I am more a "Northern Lights" man and sometimes it is the "Subtle Knife" that grabs me more. This continues on where "Northern Lights" finished off, changing perspectives for a little while to one of the alternative dimensions that are talked about but never revealed in "Northern Lights" - a place where people's souls don't exist as companions but instead within their bodies. Sound familiar? We are introduced to a fascinating new character who becomes more important in the final book and the fates of some familiar characters are revealed and, in some respects, sealed. An interesting way of opening up all the concepts of the first book without overwhelming the reader too much, "The Subtle Knife" is a must read for Philip Pullman fans. And I have decided, on writing this review that my current favourite of the trilogy is, in fact, this one. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?
For those of you who are not aware, The Subtle Knife is the second book of a trilogy, so if you have not read the first one (the northern lights, sometimes known as the golden compass if you're just plain silly), turn back now, youv'e just missed one of the best reads of your life. Not to mention you probably wont have a clue about whats really going a little later in the book. Its deceptive like that, it seems like you may be able to pick up from the second book but things make a lot more sense if you do the sensible thing and read the first one.
If you are anything like me, after reading The Northern Lights, you'll frantically run upstairs (if you have no stairs, pretend) grab this one off your shelf, run back down and take up your seat till at least the first ten chapters are over.
The books span over a few different worlds, the first being focused in an alternate universe belonging to the main character, Lyra.
This book is a little closer to home, being in our universe, on our planet, in our oxford. We begin with Will Parry. There is something not quite right from the beginning. Something has happend. Will is running away from his mother whom he loves very much.
By chance Will stumbles apon a door to another world. Surprise! Dont worry, Mr Pullman builds up a whole lot more excitement than I do. This is why he's the writer.
Figuring this would be the best place to hide from whatever it is he is running from, off he goes. While in hiding, will meets a little girl we (should) all know well. Her name is Lyra and she is from another world. She is on a mission to find her friend. After spending some time in this strange world, full of life sucking ghouls (Managers, as I like to call them) they decide to try and help eachother.
Along their journey they discover even more about the mysteries of the alethiometer (the instrument Lyra has been given in the first book) and find a new weapon to help in their fight against evil- aka The Church.
There are a tonne of new character in this book, building on the wealth of them produced in "The Northern Lights" and yet Pullman manges them all perfectly. He effortlessly follows at least 3 different people in different worlds doing different things and manages to not confuse a soul. These books are, after all, written for children. (Don't worry, Harry Potter made it ok for grown ups to read kids books)
As Lyra and Will make their way to who knows where (I do, I've read it), there are twists and turns, deceptions and trickery keeping them and the reader on their toes at all times. You'll never quite get who's on the good side and who's on the bad side until its too late. Even more brilliantly, you probably won't even be able to distingush Good and Bad. True to life, there are a lot of characters who are both good, bad and ugly.
This book is full of suspense, drama, shock and some rather scary beings. Brilliant for kids and amazing for adults, full of meaning the adults will understand and the kids wont even know is there.
This story is being built with unbelieveable skill. It will take you on a journey to the edge of your imagination and back and, if you're as big a wuss as I am, it will defenatley leave you in tears more than once (in a good way of course)
Ending on a complete and utter cliff hanger, you are left dangling by a thread above a canyon you cant even see the bottom of. You won't be able to not read the third (the amber spy glass). Just think yourself lucky you started reading when the saga has been completed!
Price, we are talking the same as the other books, around £5- £8 from any good or otherwise self respecting book store and well worth it too!
A quick warning too, make sure (mostly for my sake) that you get the same set of covers you started with! There are a lot of different covers for these books and it would be bad, wrong and evil of you to mix your covers.
Definatley a must read.... right after you read the first.... and right before you read the third!
(Taken from my Ciao review)
This is the second book in Phillip Pullmans 'his dark materials' trilogy and while being not quite as good as The Northern lights is still a spectecular story told by a truly brilliant author. Once again Pullman combines brilliant settings and descriptions with an enthrolling storyline. Again the settings are probably not quite as good as in the first book but this is down to a different world where the places are not quite as spectacular as they are in Lyra's world, where the first book is set.
This story starts with Will who is only a 12 year old boy but has just killed a man and doesn't know why. Know he is on the run and alone and confused, but the one thing that keeps him going is his detemination to find out about his fathers disapperance. Will running using the same knife he used to kill the man, Will somehow cuts a window in space leading to a different world, which he steps through in order to escape. This world is very different to his own and is filled with danger not only from the soul eating Spectres but also from many of the people there too.
Shortly after entering this new and strange world Will finds himself a companion, a young girl named Lyra (the main charcter from The Northern Lighs). Like Will she has a mission and they agree to be friends and help each other complete their missions, which they feel may be linked, at all costs.
The story then follows these two charcters and their jouney to discover what they need to know to complete their missions. As in all Pullman novels it has many twists and turns which manke the story all the more exciting to read, and combined with his brilliant storytelling makes it a magnificiant book.
The second in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy takes a giant step into cross-world politics, while keeping the story easy enough for kids to follow.
The lead character, Lyra Belacqua, is joined in her quest by Will Parry, a boy who, it seems, also has a destiny to fulfill. Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes from the first book split off on other quests, all of which will eventually lead to the same end point.
Every now and then, you read a book which gives you a feeling of being involved, that something new and exciting is just around the corner. The Subtle Knife does just this. Some unanswered questions from the first book, Northern Lights, are answered. Yet it also poses new ones, providing new characters and beliefs which once again seem to question anything and everything.
It is important to have read Northern Lights before attempting The Subtle Knife, otherwise it is like starting a book halfway through. Many things will not make sense. But once you do so, you will likely not want to put the books down. The moment I finished The Subtle Knife, I picked up the thrid in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, and started reading it.
An amazing book, one that keeps you reading on and on and leaves you wanting more and more and more. Get it!
Also on ciao.
The Subtle Knife is the second of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, a truly epic adventure embracing religion, science and classic adventure. The series is very much one story broken into three books, rather than a set of interlinked, but essentially stand-alone stories, such as those of Narnia, or to a lesser extent, Harry Potter; as such, you'd really want to read Northern Lights before moving on to this or the third book, The Amber Spyglass. My review of the first book outlines some of the basic concepts of the trilogy more fully than I will here.
~ A Recap ~
In Northern Lights, our protagonist Lyra, and her dæmon (a physical embodiment of one's soul, essentially, taking animal form) Pantalaimon, travel North with a band of Gyptians searching for a group of kidnapped children. For her own part, Lyra goes further, to Svalbard, where she finds her uncle, Lord Asriel, who has discovered a way to break through the Northern Lights into another world, in search of a mysterious substance known as Dust, which he believes to be a source of great evil. Intrigued, and feeling that Dust may in fact be a force for good, Lyra leaves her world (similar to, but different from ours) behind, and follows Lord Asriel through the sky.
This is, of course, only a basic representation of the movements of the main characters - the true complexity is something only the book itself can convey, but the above places us in a position from which to take up The Subtle Knife
~ A Meeting of Worlds ~
The book opens a couple of days after the culmination of Northern Lights, and in a different world to that of the first installment - specifically ours. Will, a plucky, determined but undeniably afraid 12-year-old boy and his mother are being pursued by a pair of men who covet something in their possession. Entrusting the care of his mother to a friendly neighbour, Will bears the object away, inadvertently causing the death of one of his tormentors in the process.
Now a marked man, Will flees to Oxford, looking for a place to hide - and finds it, somewhere more perfect in this respect than he could have imagined; the world of Cittagazze, lying the other side of a window in the air. This strange world is seemingly inhabited solely by children, and it is here that Will meets Lyra.
United at first through convenience, it becomes clear that their respective missions; Will's to find his father, and Lyra's to uncover the truth about Dust, are more closely entwined than they might have initially thought. The importance of the two of them to higher matters begin to emerge, and are only intensified when Will comes into possession of Æsahætter, the eponymous blade of the title, whose capabilities exceed even those Will becomes aware of; the ability to cut through any substance, and forge gateways between worlds.
And so the children pursue their goals, whilst at the same time being themselves pursued as the objects of others' desires. What indeed is Dust? Who, and where is Will's father? Why are each of the children coveted by higher powers, and what is the true nature of Lord Asriel's plans?
~ Familiar faces; new tricks ~
The aspects which made Northern Lights so good return here; Pullman's incisive, powerful writing depicts wondrous worlds and breathes life into a range of characters; both old and new. The Subtle Knife introduces two principal innovations to the trilogy - the multiplicity of worlds, with travel between them enabled by the knife, and the bearer of that blade, Will. Not featured in the first book, it soon becomes clear that he has a vital role to play in events. Although it seems somewhat unconventional to bring in such a major character a third of the way through the series, the author quickly integrates him into the plot, and characterises him in such a distinctive, intriguing manner that he seems to belong in no time.
The multiple-world concept also comes off superbly. With the power of the knife, a seemingly infinite number of universes are open to the children, and Pullman makes the most of this, illustrating the similarities and differences between the Oxfords of Will's and Lyra's worlds, amongst other asymmetries. With a greater scope for variety, Pullman's descriptions of the locations used are especially impressive - as concise and evocative as before, he is able to paint a whole city before a reader's eyes without ever straying into over-long passages or excessive description. The dialogue is also particularly well written; each character speaks with a distinctive enough style and manner to often make "said X" suffixes redundant.
The rest of the new characters are generally of lesser importance - at least in this installment. The central players here are largely those familiar from the previous book; Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala have expanded roles, and a number of other witches also figure. Iorek Byrnison, however, is absent from this book - sadly, for he was one of the strongest characters from Northern Lights. Still, he'll be back.
Like the first of the trilogy, this isn't a book with a great deal of humour in it - although often the interchanges between Will and Lyra can bring a smile to one's face, most often caused by the latter's outwardly pragmatic, but inwardly sensitive attitude. The subject matter isn't quite as dark or disturbing as in Northern Lights, but the tone as a whole is more hard-hitting, moving from a creepy, threatening atmosphere to a cold, hard reality - reflecting the flight from innocence that is, broadly speaking, the central theme of the trilogy. Deaths are very much the order of the day here, involving two semi-major characters as well as a number of lesser ones.
The main duo do not go unaffected here, either - Will in particular suffers (including a Skywalker-esque mishap), and both come to bear a heavy burden. The reader comes to see Lyra, who we have of course followed since the outset, as much less of child than she initially was - this seemed hard to imagine in the first book, but by giving her the responsibility of helping Will, Pullman moves her firmly towards adulthood. This is, then, not a light-hearted book, absent of the forced comedy or melodrama of other children's books (and I use the term loosely; this is very much an affair for all ages) - and it is all the more remarkable for it. The author keeps a sense of spectacle over the story, never letting the reader wholly forget the wider significance of the unfolding events, while also creating a wonderfully involving plot on a smaller scale. Rarely letting much slip in terms of the master-plan, the reader is often as in the dark as the characters are - and this makes for an intense, involving experience.
Foundation for the accusations of the series being a thinly-disguised polemic against the Church is more evident in this volume than the last; especially towards the end, some fairly controversial allegations are aired, and stated as fact by the characters. However, in a similar way to The Da Vinci Code (and even more obviously here), this is of course just a work of fiction - although much of what is straying well into blasphemy, it is only a point of view represented by the characters. Granted, there isn't much by way of a counter-argument; religion takes a fair old beating here - but this needn't spoil the excellence of the book. Even if it is strongly offensive to you, the themes aren't quite as dominant a part of the book as much of the criticism would have you believe.
~ Caught in the Middle ~
For all these considerable qualities, however, I didn't find myself enjoying this book as much as the first. In some ways, this is deliberate - the tone of the story is meant to be uncomfortable in places, and as previously referred to, we are meant to be aware that we are leaving innocence behind as we read. Nonetheless, I found Northern Lights to be that much more awe-inspiring and fantastical - part of this was of course its newness and freshness, but it was also a slightly better story.
As the middle book of three, perhaps this was inevitable. Often the plot seems purely to be a path to a point which is never quite reached, especially in the second half of the book, when the stronger chapters are left behind. If the final book justifies this build-up, as I'm sure it will, this slow-down will be easily forgiven, but here it makes for a slightly unsatisfying conclusion; albeit only by the exceptional standards of the series thusfar. Despite this, Pullman continues in the creation of his incredible world(s). Few other writers could depict a reality in which Witches, Angels, Spectres and windows between worlds seem wholly plausible, and lend what is in many ways a simple adventure story such a feeling of grand importance without having it descend it melodrama. For me, the first two books of His Dark Materials rank right up there with the best of children's fiction, and like the best, transcends genres and ages. The Amber Spyglass awaits
On completing The Northern Lights, I was excited at the prospect of reading this, although very aware that a sequel can be a total anticlimax.
Expecting to pick up where the first book left off, I was surprised to be introduced to Will Parry. He is a fascinating young boy, living in our world. Wills father went missing on an expedition, and some men have been following his mother in an attempt to find out where Wills father is by finding letters written to his mother. When Will accidentally kills one of these men, he runs away to Oxford, taking the letters with him.
He leaves his mother behind in the care of an acquaintance, and sets out to find somewhere he can hide. Will finds a window in mid air, almost invisible to the naked eye, and climbs through.
In the seemingly deserted city of Cittágazze, where food is left rotting on cafe tables, Will meets Lyra (from the Northern Lights). Will is different. He has no Daemon, or at least, you cant see his Daemon. Lyra assumes his Daemon is hidden inside of him. Cittágazze is full of soul eating Spectres which can only be seen by adults, and leave them in a living death. Spectres prey on humans over the age of puberty; hence there are no adults in Cittágazze.
Lyra is hell bent on avenging her friend Rogers death and on learning about Dust (or Dark Matter as it is called in Wills world). Lyras alethiometer tells her that Will is a murderer, but she trusts Will, and the Alethiometer also tells her to help Will find his father.
It is here in Cittágazze that Will and Lyra climb the Tower. Will battles ferociously with a boy, and becomes the true bearer of the Subtle Knife.
The children join together to find Wills father in a story of spectres, angels, Witches, armoured bears, and a knife that is so subtle it can cut through from one world to another. Both characters are as important as each other in this adventure, and this is captured perfectly in a way that is very difficult to achieve. Lyra and Will have a long journey ahead of them. Will Will find his father? Will Asriel win the war that he is doomed to be defeated in without an item he does not know exists? Will the children fulfill their destinies, and reveal the secret of Dust?
You will find yourself asking lots of questions that will not be answered until the third book.
This book leaves you breathless with excitement, even more so than the first. It made me want to read and read until it was finished. A truly incredible book, which is written in such a way, that the Northern Lights appears to just set the scene.
Pullman has introduced new characters into the story, and allowed them to develop and grow. There are some amazing twists on characters from the first book. Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, Serafina Pekkala, and Iorek Byrnison all continue in this book, and the way the new characters fit is amazing.
This book really should make the church shake in fear. It questions our beliefs in a way which is so believable it is scary.
I would recommend this book to children aged 10 to 100.
The Subtle Knife is an absolute paragon of what the middle novel of a trilogy should be. It would have been very easy for Philip Pullman to have sat back on his laurels and gone, Right, I?ve written something excellent, it?s sold millions of copies. Now I don?t really have to think much about the sequel, just put it down on paper and bingo! Instant cash!. Thankfully for us he not only thought about the sequel but wrote a novel that may be better than The Northern Lights. But First a digression: Dr Richard?s Strorytelling course section 11.7b, subparagraph 2: in general the middle section of a trilogy is where you cast your net as widely as it can/should go; you should explore your themes in greater detail and emphasis to detail; you bring in all those other players we haven?t seen and are (will be) imperative to the progression of the narrative; you steadily move the plot and characters so that they can converge on: The FINAL PART and the THRILLING DENOUEMENT! End of section 11.7b, subparagraph 2. End of Digression. Pullman does this with masterful ease. He?s dug his foundations in The Northern Lights and in The Subtle Knife he?s started to build. It is easy here to think that bringing in new characters and sending us readers into new lands is enough. Witness the Matrix Reloaded for a painful example of how to lose the audience in pointless spectacle and muddled storytelling (though in MR you could argue that there?s almost no sotry whatsoever). Pullman keeps himself even more focussed on the story and the progression of the characters as he does in the Northern Lights. He doesn?t allow himself to lose sight of his goals. If anything he expands his goals and flexes his storytelling muscles. Pullman widens his scope as he brings us into our world. He introduces Will, who like Lyra could have been some terrible cliché character, a 2D image to bore us into insensibility. But no, Will is every bit as
intriguing and as human as Lyra is. He is also different from Lyra and so when the two meet we are sure that their characters will have an interesting dynamic, and they do. There are fewer greater pleasures than reading the interplay between characters as carefully crafted as this because it deepens our emotional involvement with them. This state of heightened emotion sucks us in deeper into the novel as with each new page, danger and event we care more deeply for them. Hence our ability to be moved is deepened. This is a rare thing. The scope is also widen by the fact Pullman is changing his characters. As I noted in my review of The Northern Lights, Pullman allows his characters to grow and to evolve naturally; he continues in the same vein here. The whole story is based on shifting sands that suddenly thrust us into different situations through the alterations in the opinions and aims of his characters. So once again we?re unsure where we?re going to end up. This is genuinely thrilling. Pullman empowers Lyra and Will in this novel; he does not leave them bereft of power. I think that this is a clever move because with power comes responsibility and child are not always the most responsible of creatures. And so we watch as Lyra and Will are forced to grow up and put away childish things. We are given full view of the people Lyra and Will might become as adults. Their growth towards maturity is only one of their own personal struggles though as for every ally and friend they find they seem to gain an enemy. They move into genuinely deadly territory. Beyond the theme of self-determination there is also a newfound sense of reliance and responsibility in The Subtle Knife. The characters are less solitary and suddenly it is clear that they are all responsible for the actions and safety of one another. It is no longer the case of Lyra fleeing Mrs Coulter, alone, helpless and determining her own future. She has to care for Wi
ll and Will her, as they find their way through the wilderness. Though they are seeking their freedom, they are fighting it together, there is unity of purpose and only through self-determined unity can they continue to prevail. If anything it seemed to me that the burden of aid in The Subtle Knife was the greatest burden any of the characters had to bear. There is ultimately something deeper and richer about the Subtle Knife. I think this is because as Pullman has opened up his arena and his narrative. He has allowed his near boundless imagination full flight. He has not allowed himself to get trapped, or as I stated earlier, to lose sight of his eventual goals. The story moves into new and startling areas and sometimes it is quite breathtaking because of the scope of the story he is showing us. It is like tearing away a curtain to reveal the dawn. Here is a staggering sight, a beautiful vista that takes our breath away. I?ll admit that I was uncertain where he was going to take the story after The Northern Lights and was stunned, staggered and delighted to recognise the scope of his vision. Also it was a delight to see an author trust his skills as a storyteller to be able to take on such a vast narrative and a testament to his skill that he could both imagine and build such a story. And then there?s the Amber Spyglass?
How do you even begin to write about a book like this? A book so unlike any you have read before, a book so absorbing, so original, so intelligent and so magnificently written? A book that makes you want to rush home from work just so that you can pick it up again and find out what happens next? It's not any easy thing to do, I can tell you. I am sure that many people have been put off trying the His Dark Materials series (of which this is the second instalment) because it has been unfairly labelled as children's fiction; let me assure you that this is a story that works on many levels and is just as good for adults as it is for children. It is the best fantasy adventure I have read since the Chronicles of Narnia (and that, for me, is saying a lot). So, how do I begin? Well, the opening seems like a good place... "Will tugged at his mother's hand and said, 'Come on, come on...'. But his mother hung back. She was still afraid. Will looked up and down the narrow street in the evening light, along the little terraces of houses, each behind its tiny garden and its box hedge, with the sun glaring off the windows of one side and leaving the other in shadow. There wasn't much time. People would be having their meal about now, and soon there would be other children around, to stare and comment and notice. It was dangerous to wait, but all he could do was persuade her, as usual". (The Subtle Knife, page 1). Will is a 12 year old boy living with and looking after his mother in Winchester. His mother isn't ill. She just needs help, as she gets afraid and confused sometimes. Will cannot see or understand the things that frighten his mother; all he can do is learn how to cook and clean and care for her in the times when she is well and happy, and try to protect her from her fears in the times when she is afraid. He is alone in this task. His father, John Parry, vanished while on an expedition to Canada whe
n he was a baby, and the authorities would just split him and his mother up, putting him into care. Will has coped well like this for several years, but now there is a new threat - something real and tangible for him to fear as much as his mother. Now there are two men who keep coming round to their house and asking after his father, who call when he is in school to try and scare his mother into telling them what she knows about him and his whereabouts. Will knows that now is the time to find his missing father, so he takes his mother to stay with a kindly old lady who used to teach him the piano, and sets out alone to Oxford - where his father?s expedition left from. Whist in Oxford, Will makes an unexpected discovery, but it's not about his father. Beneath a hornbeam tree near a ring road on the outskirts of Oxford, he finds a strange window hanging in the air. The window is almost invisible from most angles, but once up close, Will can look through it into what appears to be another world. By this time, Will is exhausted and afraid of the police tracking him down as a missing child - whatever this new world contains has got to be better than the fear and uncertainty of his own. Will passes through the window into the city of Cittagazze; a city of boulevards and harbours, of cafes and beaches. And no people. The city had been deserted. Apart from one person - a fierce girl of his own age called Lyra, who has also arrived here from another world (the world of the first book of this trilogy, "Northern Lights"). The world of Cittagazze is unlike either those of Will or Lyra. It is a world haunted by beings called Spectres, who attack adults, eating their soul and leaving them in a state of living death - only children may safely exist here, for the Spectres seem uninterested in them, and children in turn cannot see the Spectres. This world, so beautiful and welcoming in appearance, becomes strange and unsettling and not the
safe hiding place Will and Lyra took it to be. For they are not the only ones who know of windows between worlds, nor are they the only ones aware of this city. For high in the Cittagazze's Torre del Angeli lies this world's most important secret, the Subtle Knife. An object of great and mysterious power that many people from different worlds would kill to own. And it appears that Will has been chosen by the knife to be its next bear... ----------------------------------------------------------------- Philip Pullman has done a quite amazing job in weaving this trilogy of stories together. He was not content with just creating one world for his characters to act out their lives - rather, he has three that they can move between. The first is the world of religious power and scheming clerics that Lyra comes from; the second the secular late 20th century world that we ourselves are familiar with, and the third the Italian Renaissance style world of Cittagazze, a former model of peace, moderation and cooperation. There are parallels between the three worlds, and between the two lead characters. Both Will and Lyra have animal familiars (Lyra has her daemon, Will is followed around by a tabby cat), both are overshadowed by their fathers (Lord Asriel and John Parry), both are bound to an object of great power and importance (Lyra to the alethiometer or truth-compass, Will to the Subtle Knife) and both have a role to play in the impending Armageddon that forecast for the third book of the trilogy. As an atheist, Pullman has put a domineering and corrupted church with the symbols and mythology of Christian religion at the centre of his plot, and used the easy familiarity we have with these things (such as angels) to his own advantage by recreating them in new ways and challenging our assumptions towards them. Pullman's attitude to religion is clear enough for anyone to see - he even goes as far as the name Lyra?s father Asriel,
after the biblical Azrael, the angel of death. In this trilogy, we are faced with a conflict between Authority (God, the controlling dogma of the Church - personified by Lyra's mother, Mrs Coulter) and Free Will (the Promethean aspect, as personified by Lord Asriel). I am not going to spoil the finer details of the plot for you, but I will go as far as to say that it is very cleverly done and the interactions of the characters between the fantasy worlds and religious mythology is nothing short of fascinating. The Subtle Knife, in my opinion, is a superior read to Northern Lights. I feel the reader is given a altogether better introduction to Will - although the book throws us straight into the action, we are also given time to find out what sort of person he is and are given a context for his actions straight away (something that was missing when we first met Lyra at the start of Northern Lights). Pullman doesn't go in for the elaborate descriptions of worlds that were so beloved of Tolkien, but all the same you feel as if you know each world and can understand and appreciate what is going on within it. Although using simple themes throughout, Pullman has a way of weaving them in imaginative ways, of creating sub-plots that move the story on in many ways at once. It is intelligently written and doesn't shy away from having bad things happen to its heroes despite being marketed for children - a very welcome change, indeed. I feel confident in recommending The Subtle Knife to all readers aged 10 and over who enjoy a good fantasy adventure. · Details The Subtle Knife was first published in 1997, and is available in paperback from Scholastic Publishing for £6.99. However, you can alternatively do what I did and buy the whole trilogy from BOL.com for £8. You can read more about Philip Pullman at: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/ pullman/philippullman/ You can access a readers guide to The Su
btle Knife at: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/subtleknife/rgg.html
Second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.