Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review - The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

X-posted at Cannonball Read IV

As the cover says, The Subtle Knife is the sequel to The Golden Compass, and the second book of the complete His Dark Materials trilogy. It is possible that there may be implied SPOILERS for The Golden Compass in this review. Any spoilers are unintended, but I am discussing a sequel. This book introduces us to Will Parry, who is from a different world than we were introduced to in TGC. We are meant to gather that Will’s world is our world; it lacks obvious supernatural phenomena, and the people in it do not have external daemons like the people from the world in TGC do.

After being harassed by two men who want to uncover information about his missing father, Will accidentally kills one of them when they come to his house to search for documents that may reveal his father’s last known whereabouts. In order to escape the law, Will stumbles upon a window to another world: the world of Cittàgazze. While there, he meets Lyra — who we met in The Golden Compass and who found herself in Cittàgazze at the conclusion of TGC — and the two find themselves allied by benefiting from each others’ knowledge. While in Cittàgazze, Will becomes involved in a struggle that results in his becoming the new bearer of the Subtle Knife. He learns that the knife has the power to cut through worlds, which explains the window between his world and Cittàgazze. Following Will’s possession of the knife, Lyra joins him in order to try to find his father, as she was instructed by her alethiometer (truth-telling device) that this is her most important task.

As in TGC, here are several other side-plots that are important (and intriguing), but for the sake of brevity, I’m not discussing them here. The side plots do eventually serve to assist the purpose of the children, so as long as you care about what the kids are doing, you’ll understand the necessity of what the other characters are doing and you’ll enjoy reading about them doing it.

The Subtle Knife is a bit underwhelming compared to The Golden Compass (and the final book, The Amber Spyglass, which I’ll review in a bit), but that’s kind of like saying that 12-year aged cheddar is underwhelming compared to 20-year aged cheddar. It’s still an excellent book that builds solidly upon the first, with necessary exposition to move the plot forward, and another compelling character in Will. It’s got a cliffhanger that pretty much guarantees you pick up the next book, but the ending does make TSK difficult to justify as a standalone. And maybe TSK standing alone was never Pullman’s intention, but it’s safe to say that no one picks up this book without the intention of reading the other two. In any case, though it’s not as epic as the other two books in the trilogy, it certainly holds its own. It energizes the reader to complete the series, rather than dissolving interest or forcing obligation.

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