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on 5 May 2017
The Subtle Knife was one of my favourite books as a teen (although I haven't read it in well over a decade) and it still largely stands the test of time. For a children's novel, it is hugely ambitious. It raises some deep theological concepts, ranging from the nature of innocence to the problems of organised religion to the perception of reality. It should possibly be noted that, despite the accessible way in which this novel is written, a lot of the subtext is likely to go whizzing over the head of younger readers.

The story has escalated rapidly from Northern Lights, as Lyra unknowingly finds herself sandwiched between two factions - the Magisterium in their crusade against Dust, and Lord Asriel who has now set his sights on destroying the being that they worship (known as the Authority). The result is deeply original, yet still felt as though it was lacking something fundamental. I think the main problem is that Pullman's ideas are far too grand for this novel. The Subtle Knife is a bit of a smorgasbord - it contains a bit of everything but its scope is so broad that it lacks finer detail. We see glimpses of the bigger picture - of Lord Asriel's fortress and Mrs Coulter's ever growing greed - but there isn't enough room in the novel to really focus on any aspect.

In this, The Subtle Knife is a bit of a middle-novel. It really exists to move the key characters into the places that they need to be for The Amber Spyglass. It's not a bad novel by any means - in fact, I think it's better paced than Northern Lights - however, the perspective does jump around a lot between important parties. It's not just Lyra's story anymore. Will, Mary Malone, Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala also are the focus of chapters and so the 3rd person narrative flits between them and the various worlds that they travel to. The novel also ends on a very sudden cliffhanger, leaving it feeling incomplete as a whole.

Yet where The Subtle Knife really grabbed me was its characters. I cared about all of them deeply and never wanted any of them to come to any harm (which is unfortunate, as Pullman has no trouble tearing out my heart and crushing it). Although Will and Lyra often seem older than pre-teens, they are still both really likeable protagonists and showed noticeable growth and maturity throughout the story. The twists and turns in their destiny are also compelling, drawing the reader in and leaving you wondering how things can possibly turn out okay in The Amber Spyglass.

All in all, this is not a perfect read but is a strong sequel to Northern Lights. I really look forward to seeing how it all wraps up in the final book.
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on 20 April 2018
The new protagonist Will Parry gets a little annoying as he seems to be largely flawless from his introduction onward; cowing everyone he meets with no real effort, which means that his character is built up at the expense of others (not least of all the prideful Lyra, who becomes outright subservient to him). I feel that Pullman could have conveyed Will's character as an intense, driven, conscientious and brave boy without some of the more overt methods he employs in The Subtle Knife, the worst of which may be Will's apparent ability to alternate between appearing 'dull' to be completely inconspicuous whenever he wishes but also passively being so intense and fierce in appearance that established characters like the witch Serafina fear him the moment they look at him. These polarizing descriptions of the character are a little jarring and took me out of the story a bit, which is a shame because the book is otherwise an excellent continuation from The Northern Lights and retains the same excellent storytelling and world-building (no small feat when multiple worlds get thrown into the mix...) from before.

Despite the fantasy setting, Pullman does an amazing job of making the major characters all seem complex and relatable (even Will, aside from the occasional in-your-face reminder that he's The Best Ever).
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on 9 April 2015
The Subtle Knife continues directly where Northern Lights/Golden Compass left off: a common trait in trilogies, and one I don't like. (Even in connected books, authors should make each book complete in itself.) Subtle Knife is the same. But each book in this series deals with a very different goal in a different way, which excuses the cliffhanger.

When Lyra takes the "wormhole" (His Dark Materials is really sci-fi in a wizard's robe) she enters an entirely new story, and becomes a different character. Mrs Coulter is as scary as ever: perhaps the most terrifyingly sweet woman in the genre. The parallels between "their" world and "our" world aren't laboured, and as the action moves north to Svalberg the distinctions blur; after all, both universes are covered in snow. Much as Pullman's effortless prose style made us accept daemons are perfectly reasonable in part 1, we accept moving between dimensions as entirely normal in this part 2.

What's more, I hate fantasy. I just hate it: full of lazy supernatural powers and magical get-out-of-jail-free cards. But I'll give any author a chance, and Pullman of course came with somewhat powerful credentials. I'm glad I took the plunge. The Subtle Knife uses the devices of the fantasy genre, but... differently. The mcGuffin (the knife itself) isn't sought reverently for its power; it falls into someone's hands, and it's a huge burden, not a benefit. A true twist that gives the series its narrative strength.

So... a terrific read. But you knew that already. What I'm appealing to in this review is non-fantasy readers. If you think it's beneath you, try His Dark Materials and you might be surprised.
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on 21 February 2018
After reading the first book in the trilogy, I was desperate to get my hands on the second. The whole story running through the trilogy is complicated. This book picks up the story but I don't know if it could stand alone. The book engaged me, having already read the first one as the story continued and I couldn't wait to get to the end and onto the third book.
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on 15 September 2013
excellent tale well told with lots of surprises supposed to have religious undertones or messages As its supposedly a childrens book its a bloody good adventure story but not a subversive anti religion tract It may be coloured by the authors view on the matter but surely thats the case with any work of imagination even non fiction is someones take on an occurence or event from their perspective thats what you buy into and thats how you evolve .i like this but i dont like that Now more than at any other time people try to find answers or hidden meanings in many subjects and the church from being this omnipotent figurehead has been shaken by people questioning instead of accepting doctrines at face value .It is written therefore it is should be questioned and investigated whatever the source
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on 18 February 2016
I really enjoyed this trilogy, even as a thirty-something woman with eclectic reading tastes! I enjoyed both the storylines and the writing style and whilst the themes of religion/original sin are pretty obvious, they were still interesting and philosophically explored, and the idea of parallel universes etc were compelling. The characters were believable and Lyra represents a strong young woman which I liked. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable and often thought-provoking read.
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on 15 March 2018
This book and another, “Northern Lights” were both water damaged. The package was left unprotected edge in a puddle outside the front door.
See photo. The other two “The Amber Spyglass” and “Eleanor Oliphant” were GOOD, OK.
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on 4 June 2017
Great story. Would have preferred unabridged though.
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on 22 April 2018
Find Pullman's writing slow and painful.
Characters are unlikable, too much word play so you have no idea what he's talking about.
Overall tone is old fashioned, stuffy and dull.
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on 7 January 2018
Whether you are child or adult this is an exciting and thought provoking book to read. Heartily recommended. Read all of them.
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