Review – The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2)The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman

published 1997, 235 pages



From –

The Subtle Knifeoffers 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.

My thoughts –

Another great installment in this highly acclaimed trilogy.  I’m very happy that I’ve exposed myself to these stories because they keep getting better.  The Subtle Knife dives deeper into Lyra’s story, exposing the reader to more characters, more worlds, and more details as to what this series is really about.  I don’t know much else to say about these books since I’m pretty sure most everyone on the planet has read them, but I really am enjoying this series and am looking forward to the third and final book!

Also reviewed by: Charley at Bending Bookshelf.

4 thoughts on “Review – The Subtle Knife”

  1. I enjoyed this trilogy. The Golden Compass was my favorite, partly because I was unaware of the controversy, and I was able to read it with an open and innocent mind. Though I still liked reading The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, I admit that it was harder for me to become truly absorbed by the story, after reading all sorts of articles and criticism. Do you think your reading was affected by the media attention?

  2. I LOVED this series! I’m glad you’re enjoying it too. I guess I was lucky in that I read it when it first came out, before all the media attention so I was able to just enjoy it. I’m feeling a little frantic to read the Twilight series before it gets too crazy and succumbs to the same fate…

  3. These books were so awesome! Media attention doesn’t deter or sway me, in fact, it often makes me more determined to enjoy the book. It’s good to root for the underdog!

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