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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 9 June 2001
Let's just get this clear - I will read anything. I am never not in the middle of reading a book. Whenever I know I'm nearly at the end of one book, I go out and buy another. I can't stand not having a book to read. Let's get another thing clear - I'm only thirteen, so adults reading this might not want to read my opinion - that's fine by me. Ok.
I have all the Harry Potter books, and my friend recommended Northern Lights to me because she said it was like a girl power equivalent to Harry Potter. I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I gave it a go. I realised that it is nothing like Harry Potter at all! Harry Potter is a *normal* boy in *our* world doing *normal* stuff with a twist of magic. The "His Dark Materials" trilogy is set mainly in *fantasy* worlds, but I suppose that you could say Lyra is kind of normal. Apart from the fact that she has a little Daemon called Pantalaimon. In fact, to her a daemon is normal - apparently seeing somebody without a daemon is like seeing somebody without a head - that's the kind of thing that makes this trilogy good.
This particular book is better than Northern Lights, in my opinion. There's a boy and a girl (Lyra and Will). They both come from different worlds - but they're kind of like parallel universes - there is an Oxford in Lyra's world, but it has certain features that are different, such as the aforementioned daemons and a certain Jordan College, which is not at the *real* Oxford Uni. Then there's ANOTHER world which is totally different. Things called spectres haunt and drown the souls of the adults, but the kids are unaffected. How creepy? And you can hear angels - and there are witches... It's all very creepy, which is v. cool.
I would recommend this to anybody who enjoyed Harry Potter, but thinks they are growing out of him. There are some really clever twists, and it deals with emotions and tragedy a lot more than Harry Potter does. I don't know why Philip Pullman isn't getting the coverage that J. K. Rowling is. In my opinion he's a much much better writer. It amazes me how he can know exactly how a little girl actually feels - and the books are so imaginative, you'd think he comes from Lyra's world!
And one more thing - look out for some seriously wicked names - Lyra Belacqua (or Silvertongue as she has now been christened) is a lot more exciting than Harry Potter, or Cornelius Fudge.
Ok, I hope you read it, cos I can't begin to tell you how good it is - you really need to see it to believe it!
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on 7 December 2005
I'm normally reluctant to give 5 stars as overusage makes truly classic books difficult to differentiate, particularly when the book is part of an all-too-common trilogy. However I had no qualms about doing it here.
The Subtle Knife develops the main character Lyra from her adventures and early path to maturity in the Northern Lights and introduces her key comrade Will, as they battle together against and with forces they do not understand.
The story line is tight, well structured and flows at a remarkable pace. The way in which Pullman brings modern theories of Physics into an adventure story is quite an achievement.
A wonderful read.
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on 14 February 2007
I can say without any doubt, that Northern Lights, together with the other two books in the trilogy (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass)are the best books I have ever read. (And I have read quite a lot!)

Each day, I couldn't wait to get on the tube and read the continuing adventure of Lyra et al.

It is enchanting from start to finish. And for my mind makes anything else you read afterwards seem highly inferior.

You are taken completely out of yourself. Yet you are also able to ponder the wider meanings of it all. And with so many twists and turns, Pullman as a writer is always several steps ahead of where you think things are going.

From the moment I finished the last page of the last book in the trilogy, (yesterday) I wanted to pick up Northern lights and read them all again. I cannot imagine anyone not liking these books. Even for those who have not read fantasy novels before. They are original, profound, gripping and simply breathtaking in places.

Frankly I envy anyone reading this trilogy for the first time!
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on 27 August 2000
I picked up Northern Lights (the first book of the trilogy) in a book shop about 7 or 8 months ago, and ever since then I have been hooked. I went on to read thism the Subtle Knife, and have been impatiantly awaiting the arrival of the Amber Spyglass for, oh it seems like years. The books are Harry Potter for older readers, with all of the mystery and adventure of JK Rowling - and a lot more of the same, as well as deceit, wickedness and a plot with no tangles in it - you never get caught up. I am fighting against myself over whether to buy the new book in hardback, so i can read it as quickly as possible, or whether to wait and have all three in a matching set. Arrggghh...decisions! I lent the first two books to loads of my friends and everyone I know loved them! So many people have read and re-read them that they are decidedly tattered and dog-eared - but i still can't stop reading them! Admittedly, Northern Lights is better than the Subtle Knife, because of the pure fantasy (whereas Subtle Knife is set partly in our own world, and partly in Lyra's and Cittagazze, Northern Lights is set entirely in Lyra's world - a distrted mirror view of our own) but both books leave you wanting more. Probably the best books for anyone of any agte from about 13.
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on 5 January 2001
Those of you who have read Phillip Pullman's triumph 'Northern Lights' will not be disappointed with it's sequel'The Subtle Knife'.
Following on from where we left off, Lyra Silvertongue is now joined by Will, a young boy from our world. Together they enter an altogether new dimension, Cittagazze, only to find evil there in the form of the Spectres.... Once in posession of the Subtle Knife and with the witches to guide them, they realise that the fate of worlds is in their hands. Lyra's thirst for knowledge of 'Dust' and Will's quest to find his long lost father will soon have you gripped.
We also see the return of Pantalaimon, Lee Scoresby, Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel alongside new and exciting characters!
Phillip Pullman's writing is complex and entralling, this novel had me continually guessing what could possibly happen next! Pullman paints landscapes with beautiful colours, rich in detail and shows immense imagination. His characters are fully rounded with complete personalities that never falter.
Now Lyra and Will have realised that they hold destiny in their hands... This trilogy is concluded with 'The Amber Spyglass' in spectacular fashion!
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on 2 March 2004
I bought all three of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy in a box set and read Northern Lights in about 2 days after becoming addicted to what could only be described as an inspiring, compulsive tale written in a brilliant and unpatronising fashion. Well with such an accolade the expectation in the remaining two parts of the set was tremendous and after a short gap reading another novel (Pride and Prejudice - talk about variation!), I plunged headlong into The Subtle Knife.
The story was undoubtedly darker and more heart wrenching than the first in the series with dramatic, sinister and charming plots throughout. The novel is a finely choreographed piece that conjoins the fairy-tale simplicity of the first book with what I can only hope is the climactic tussle of good against evil in the third. And it does it with beautiful style as the stakes clearly rise at every juncture and each nail-biting twist unfolds with enthralling literary genius.
The characters in unsurprising similarity with the first novel continue to develop and the warmth of the love between the main characters is almost tangible. Conversely, as the book progresses, your determination to defeat the evilness of Mrs Coulter, the spectres, Sir Charles and "the authority" grows, as Lyra's and Will's does, with every page turned. A few characters in the novel one could almost predict would be living under a pseudonym, although I had such lack of foresight that I incorrectly guessing two of them: thus leading to a remarkably loud jangling when the penny finally dropped. The book's orchestration is perfectly poised and its path is intricately and precisely weaved into a flawless narration combining sharp, fast-moving action with delicately subtle commentary.
Underpinning the trilogy is the far reaching conflict between the authority, centralised around the church of the Magisterium and its main protagonist, Mrs Coulter; and the free world, embodied by Lyra with her Truth device, Will with his knife and the industriously energetic Lord Asriel who exists only in name in this book. The book contrasts Lyra's universe which is run by a clerical bureaucracy dominated by the church and the nonchalant, free 20th century reminiscent of our own. But both are nicely interplayed with a third world that exemplifies the effect of turning a formerly paradisiacal interpretation of existence into a living misery. And the effect of the intertwined worlds is as splendid as its meticulous description is perfect.
The courage, bravery and determination of Lyra and Will even in the face of seemingly daunting tasks reflects the ultimate achievement that so many people desire. Pullman gives the characters a reality in an almost science fiction setting that transcends the likely age of its readers. As such, the book will find popularity with readers of all generations hoping for either youthful inspiration or mature wishfulness. The interactions of the adult characters give a complexity to the sub-plots that one almost feels that Pullman is attempting to nurture and educate children by transposing quests they face in day-to-day activities into the book. And it does it extremely well. The beleaguered aeronaut searching for his saviour, Will's battle for the knife, Lyra's fighting conscience between lying and truthfulness are all examples of this.
The end is a wholly unsatisfactory series of cliff-hangers that at the time of release must have driven Pullman fans wild with annoyance at not being able to continue the journey of Lyra and Will. I, on the other hand, had the luxury of putting The Subtle Knife back in the box and pulling out the next in the trilogy. The final chapter of The Subtle Knife leaves so many brilliantly poised story lines open that you will be running to the bookstore, or Amazon, I suppose, for the next instalment.
Spellbinding, fulfilling, rewarding and entertaining.
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on 7 February 2003
When the three parts of a trilogy form such a unity as in His Dark Materials it is perhaps a bit rash to compare them too closely but, like Star Wars, the middle is the best. Although perhaps lacking some of the darkness and sheer imaginative verve of the Amber Spyglass The Subtle Knife still delivers more overall. This is the most sinister book of the three and the most satisfying. The canvass is much more expansive then the Northern Lights but does not yet lose it self somewhat in the infinite splendour of the last book.
This is also our first introduction to Will, who provides an excellent foil for Lyra and is a wholly darker and more complex character. It is through Will and his discovery of the eponymous knife that the plot takes shape and that all the ideas of the whole trilogy finally come to be hung. The fact that Pullman's big ideas are still subsumed and mysterious also sets this book above its successor. The section in the Torre degli Angeli is the most gloriously sinister of the trilogy. The hatred of the children Paulo and Angelica, though almost incidental to the plot, gives a real bite to the central section of the book that is more disturbing then the metaphysical terrors of the Amber Spyglass.
Like Empire Strikes Back though the end is necessarily weak. I was lucky enough to have the next volume to hand and so could just plough straight on. Otherwise this leaves you hanging in mid air with many loose threads still flapping around. That said there is a denouement of sorts when Will finally meets his father, again just like Empire, but that doesn't go all together as expected.
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on 19 October 2006
First of all, I'd like to say -- I ADORE Philip Pullman!! He is one of the best authors, especially when it comes to children's books....

Lyra has crossed the bridge leading to another world. She comes to Citagazze, a strange place where 'Specters' keep the adult inhabitants in constant fear of having the pleasure of life and your soul "eaten"

It is also about Will, with his scared beloved mother, and about his father, who has disappeared. Strange men searches for a map Will knows about, but hasn't found yet (it is hidden in his house) But when he does, he must flee. He meets Lyra in Citagazze, and they become companions.

In this new adventure about Lyra, and about Will, and about Dust, many new -- and old -- characters are involved. It is about Lord Asriel's war against The Athority - God - and about Mrs Coulter's many sides. But mostly, about Lyra and her adventures. I promise, this book, the whole trilogy, is many times WORTH its awards. Undoubtadly, this is the best book ever written suited for children.
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on 7 April 2006
If you haven't read 'Northern Lights' then this book may not make much sense to you. Having read the first book in the trilogy, I couldn't wait to receive this one, to find out what happened to the characters!
I feel that this book is incredibly well written, and will appeal to a wide range of readers. I strongly recommend buying the whole trilogy!
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on 24 January 2016
I was terrified, after reading the first installment of this franchise, that His Dark Materials would be one of those trilogies that would slip up on the sequel. However, like The Empire Strikes Back in the original Star Wars trilogy, the second of Pulman's works in this series is even better than the first. Seriously, this is proper kick-butt stuff, and that's the understatement of the decade. Subtle Knife has so much depth and passion. The number of new ideas and principles that are unveiled in just the right number of pages ensure that this book feels much longer than it actually is. And that's not me saying that this book is laboriously paced or anything; this story moves with near enough the briskness of a film. It's interesting to think of the inspiration behind this book. A lot of the ideas discussed herein could relate more thoroughly to the scientific world than those discussed in its predecessor. Pulman discusses dark matter and the like, posing radical ideas which are told with such conviction that it's a safe bet that after reading this book you will see the world in a totally different light, (I know I did!) The characterisation is virtually every bit as solid as it was in Pulman's first installment. However, Serafina Pekkala's daemon has taken something of a grouchy turn. On the whole anyhow, the characters are pitch perfect. Coulter and Asriel are just as menacing as before, and the new protagonist Will Parry has plenty of emotional depth. The action present in this work is perhaps not as frequent as that exibitted by Northern Lights, but the storytelling and adventure all counterbalance this. Oh, and the ending is so powerful and emotionally charged that you may actually cry when you close the book, (I know I almost did!) Pulman has done it again. In fact, no, scratch that, he's exceeded his last. Bar none one of the best books I've yet read, if not THE, Subtle Knife will mesmerise you, captivate you, take your breath away, and change your perspective of the world around you forever. This is royally lavish, first-class storytelling.
Reviewed by Arron S. Munro.
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