Top critical review
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on 25 July 2013
I'd read this series as a teenager and loved it. In fact, Subtle Knife was by far my favourite because I adored Will. Having forgotten nearly everything about the stories, I decided to reread it. I've just finished Northern Lights, and it was pretty good, so I was looking forward to the second book, esp as I remember it to be my favourite.
Now, with clearer, adult eyes, I can see that it has no plot. It's a book full of various people travelling, always travelling, and you're not really sure where they're all actually going or why. The book is padded with bucket-loads of useless descriptions of smoke and mountains and skies, all of which are mundane and last for pages and pages. And in between these, you're fed huge monologues where Pullman essentially uses his characters to have a raging rant about God. It's a thinly disguised book of atheistic sermons with little to redeem it. And my gosh, the ending was perhaps the most annoying thing in history, a complete cop-out on Pullman's part at closing off a loose-end that he clearly didn't know how to cope with. Even with the cliff-hanger at the end, I'm afraid it hasn't quite enticed me to read the third book.
Pullman's anti-God rants were shallow and repetitive and painfully one-sided, and that would've been okay if it didn't make up for at least half of the whole book. You could decrease the book by two-thirds and you wouldn't have lost anything - the only thing of any significance is Will finding the subtle knife. There's nothing else! And despite the book being titled "The Subtle Knife", the knife doesn't even make an appearance til over 65% into the book - that's how much padding there was.
It's a pity, because the characters were good, I loved Lyra and Will both still, and the worlds are creative and the writing quality is good. If only Pullman didn't let his rage get the better of him. I get that the books are meant to be philosophical and all, but really, I just want a good story that makes me think. This is neither a good story and nor does it make you think, because Pullman only ever shows one side of the argument - that is, his side. He's ramming his beliefs down your throat - that's not "making you think", that's called "preaching". If I wanna hear rants against God, I'd have probably gone for a non-fiction book that delves into the issues in far greater depth and with much more knowledge than The Subtle Knife.