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The Subtle Knife: An Amazing Departure From Whimsy to Something Entirely New

Updated on May 29, 2020

The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

In case you are new to these blogs, I love the His Dark Materials Trilogy. It is my favorite series and is the high bar I compare fantasies to when reviewing them. And every couple years I go back to read the books again. Just recently I read the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. Here is my review.

The book takes place just a few weeks after the events of The Gold Compass. where Lord Asriel ripped a hole between the worlds, where the protagonist Lyra follows him through it. This book begins with a new protagonist, twelve year old Will Parry. He is a sad lonely boy, who must take care of his mother who is suffering from a sort of dementia. But when bad men break into his house to find his father’s journal, Will accidentally kills one of the intruders and immediately runs away scared. He soon stumbles across a shimmering tear of space in the park. He learns that it leads somewhere else and walks through it.

He soon finds it leads to a city in another world, stumbles across Lyra and they become friends. Together they learn the city is only populated by children as these invisible monsters known as Spectors feed on adults. Will and Lyra find the children strange and meaner than any they known. They soon get wrapped up in a quest to get a weapon that can tear holes I between parallel worlds called the Subtle Knife, and search for Will’s missing father.

Meanwhile witch Serafina Pekkela and her clan travel to a new world Lord Asriel opened up and search for Lyra. Aeronaut, Lee Scoresby who also cares for Lyra decides to escort a strange professor turned shaman Grummans to this parallel world to help find her. Then Lord Asriel has found his way to yet another would (there are many tears connecting many worlds) creating an army to fight God. Its madness that may begin to mean something as he has recruited angels into his army.

The good? The story goes into a bizarre direction from the first book and it’s hard to not love it for its risks and out there imagination. The first book was whimsical fun adventure, but it’s revealed Lyra’s world is just a parallel world with its own rules. Then in this book it leaves much of the whimsy behind blending elements of The String Theory and the Christian religion as core themes to the plot. It’s an intriguing and truly original turn in story telling I never seen in any other book. It also is balanced nicely as well, not being heavy handed with any of these themes. Also the dynamic between Lyra and Will is great. Lyra is an impulsive wild child with no shortage of friends. Will is lonely quiet boy who is looking for no trouble and is pulled into this adventure. They are such opposites and they learn a lot from each other. The story is also darker too. With the whimsy shaved away, things are much grimmer, especially with the specters. They seem like they belong in a horror novel.

The bad? The ending makes you angry. A side character does something very stupid because she’s mad at a former lover and it derails an entire quest. It is heartbreaking and will make the reader very angry. Also there is Dr. Malone. She is new character introduced from Will’s world (our world) and her story I found boring. I always have. I never really liked Dr. Malone in the series. I feel she never added much, but that is a very personal gripe.

Overall, this is a great book. One of my favorites and I read this book way too many times in my life time. This book is an imaginative blending of themes and genres. If you’re looking for something you can’t find in other books that’s completely unique, give this a read, but be sure to read The Golden Compass first. It does not work well a standalone novel. This I recommend to everyone except for a very specific group of people. Some very super conservative Christians hate this series. This is because of a very big misunderstanding about what is happening in the third book of this series and also because this story blends a scientific theory with Christianity which turns the religion on its head a bit changing things to make them cohesively exist together. And though I find it brilliant, some out there find these books offensive to their beliefs. I have heard faith based arguments about this book, which is silly because it is a work fiction. It has talking polar bears in it so it is not reality. It shouldn’t be taken so seriously. So if you’re one of those people who may have problem with Christianity being played with as a mythology or even altered for the sake of the story, save yourself some trouble and skip this. But everyone else? Have fun. This is a great read.

4 smoothies out of four.

Overall Rating: An Amazing Departure From Whimsy to Something Entirely New.

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