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The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials Mass Market Paperback – September 9, 2003 by Philip Pullman (Author)

The second book of a fantasy trilogy can be by far the slowest. Surprises about the new world have largely been told. We’ve met most of the characters, and they’ve left their world of comfort behind for a more dangerous quest. The third book is the final, ultimate confrontation. But the second is often a kind of travelogue with a few obstacles thrown in to hold our interest while the characters get from here to there. Not so with The Subtle Knife. While The Golden Compass introduced us to a fascinating alternate world with many imaginative characters, Mr. Pullman’s bag of tricks is by no means exhausted. In this second book, we learn there are an infinite number of parallel worlds, including our own. He introduces us to many more creative characters, like the spectral beings that eat people’s souls and the various levels of good and bad angels. And all of these are connected by a common thread, though known by different names in each world–the mysterious dust, dark matter etc., the source of what makes us who we are. In addition to the flawed but charming Lyra, we get a second protagonist, Will, a troubled boy from our own world. Together they go on a more complex quest, during which their relationship is deepened by their shared trials and personal tragedies. This book is richer in plot than the first, more multi-layered and probably better written. (I’m still not a fan of his omniscient, head hopping style, but he has some beautiful turns of a phrase). All and all, it’s a better book than the first, which tended to be more of a children’s fantasy (Gyptians and armored bears and witches, oh my!). It is, however, much darker, moving further from what anyone would call a children’s book. Yes, it can be read on multiple levels, but The Wizard of OZ, it ain’t. It’s difficult to review this trilogy without commenting on the often discussed controversy about Mr. Pullman’s anti-religious views. I was led to expect the opposite of C.S. Lewis’ Space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Peralandra, That Hideous Strength), which devolved from a darn good space travel story to an outright religious diatribe. I keep looking for that aspect to rear its ugly head. Though I take no position on his point of view, I’m deeply offended by a writer who is so self-righteous that he spoils a good story by sticking a soap box smack in the middle, climbing upon it and preaching. I have to say there was no sign of this in The Subtle Knife. The Subtle Knife is an ambitious, imaginative and refreshingly original story that I thoroughly enjoyed. Check it out!

Amazon.com Review With The Golden Compass Philip Pullman garnered every accolade under the sun. Critics lobbed around such superlatives as “elegant,” “awe-inspiring,” “grand,” and “glittering,” and used “magnificent” with gay abandon. Each reader had a favorite chapter–or, more likely, several–from the opening tour de force to Lyra’s close call at Bolvangar to the great armored-bear battle. And Pullman was no less profligate when it came to intellectual firepower or singular characters. The dæmons alone grant him a place in world literature. Could the second installment of his trilogy keep up this pitch, or had his heroine and her too, too sullied parents consumed him? And what of the belief system that pervaded his alternate universe, not to mention the mystery of Dust? More revelations and an equal number of wonders and new players were definitely in order. The Subtle Knife offers everything we could have wished for, and more. For a start, there’s a young hero–from our world–who is a match for Lyra Silvertongue and whose destiny is every bit as shattering. Like Lyra, Will Parry has spent his childhood playing games. Unlike hers, though, his have been deadly serious. This 12-year-old long ago learned the art of invisibility: if he could erase himself, no one would discover his mother’s increasing instability and separate them. As the novel opens, Will’s enemies will do anything for information about his missing father, a soldier and Arctic explorer who has been very much airbrushed from the official picture. Now Will must get his mother into safe seclusion and make his way toward Oxford, which may hold the key to John Parry’s disappearance. But en route and on the lam from both the police and his family’s tormentors, he comes upon a cat with more than a mouse on her mind: “She reached out a paw to pat something in the air in front of her, something quite invisible to Will.” What seems to him a patch of everyday Oxford conceals far more: “The cat stepped forward and vanished.” Will, too, scrambles through and into another oddly deserted landscape–one in which children rule and adults (and felines) are very much at risk. Here in this deathly silent city by the sea, he will soon have a dustup with a fierce, flinty little girl: “Her expression was a mixture of the very young–when she first tasted the cola–and a kind of deep, sad wariness.” Soon Will and Lyra (and, of course, her dæmon, Pantalaimon) uneasily embark on a great adventure and head into greater tragedy. As Pullman moves between his young warriors and the witch Serafina Pekkala, the magnetic, ever-manipulative Mrs. Coulter, and Lee Scoresby and his hare dæmon, Hester, there are clear signs of approaching war and earthly chaos. There are new faces as well. The author introduces Oxford dark-matter researcher Mary Malone; the Latvian witch queen Ruta Skadi, who “had trafficked with spirits, and it showed”; Stanislaus Grumman, a shaman in search of a weapon crucial to the cause of Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father; and a serpentine old man whom Lyra and Pan can’t quite place. Also on hand are the Specters, beings that make cliff-ghasts look like rank amateurs. Throughout, Pullman is in absolute control of his several worlds, his plot and pace equal to his inspiration. Any number of astonishing scenes–small- and large-scale–will have readers on edge, and many are cause for tears. “You think things have to be possible,” Will demands. “Things have to be true!” It is Philip Pullman’s gift to turn what quotidian minds would term the impossible into a reality that is both heartbreaking and beautiful. –Kerry Fried –This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials Mass Market Paperback – September 9, 2003 by Philip Pullman (Author) Review

I read this series in high school and loved it. Now that I am trying to build up a book collection I wanted these books. They are hard to find in bookstores by me though. They are fantastic books for young adults. -Read Reviews-

Oh, how I loved this story! And even more I loved listening to the voices of the actors who made the story real. The only thing I didn’t like was the music play between chapters. Horrid! But not enough to lessen my rating. I can hardly wait to get the next book and move on!I wrote the above review for the audio version that I was able to download from my library on the OverDrive. I read the book on the Kindle while listening to the audio. I really had a hard time leaving that world behind. I had to put the next audio on hold for the next one as it was unavailable. 🙁

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