Top critical review
A real disappointment after Northern Lights
on 10 February 2013
After finding the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy an interesting read, I was keen to follow the rest of the story, as I felt book one was somewhat incomplete. Book two disapointed, lacking the characterisation, solid plot and detailed worldbuilding that I enjoyed in Northern Lights.
In The Subtle Knife, we meet Will, a child of the real world who is on the run, and finds his way through a portal into another world. I was hoping that we'd spend the book aligned with Will as he went on a quest, as we had with Lyra in the first book, but that wasn't to be, and the narrative instead flits about between points of view with little consistency, making the events hard to follow in places.
The ideas behind the book are excellent - the overall plot (though this does suffer from being a middle book which doesn't really advance much), the characters, the metaphors, the fantasy - but Pullman's execution does nothing for me. The writing feels a mix of patronisingly over-explaining things to the language of old-fashioned childrens' books like those by John Masefield, which now feels like the sort of thing a school curriculum would force on children as an example of literature. It's not a style that I found appealing or seemed like it would be approachable to young readers.
I found that I really had to push myself to finish this book, and after waiting several months to read it after the first volume I felt quite let down. I hope the final book picks the pace back up and concludes the story in a satisfactory manner.