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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
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The Subtle Knife (1997)

by Philip Pullman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: His Dark Materials (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
17,71625497 (4.07)332
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» See also 332 mentions

English (246)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (253)
Showing 1-5 of 246 (next | show all)
This is not the first time I've tried to review The Subtle Knife. I often leave reviews half-finished because I have to leave for work or make dinner or do the laundry or take a phone call. Or whatever. Usually they're still waiting for me when I get back to my computer. But sometimes my computer decides to be a jerk and do some updates while I'm away... at which point it deletes my entire review and I give up for awhile.

This happened twice with The Subtle Knife. So this time, I'm just going to try to write it in one sitting. I'm also going to try to follow the same format I used in my review for The Golden Compass.

In The Subtle Knife, we meet Will, a young boy from our world who has stumbled into the strange world of Cittagazze, where children run free and there are no adults to be found. It's not long before he meets Lyra, and the two become friends while figuring out exactly how they both came to be in this unusual place.

The children soon find that not everything in Cittagazze is like our world, or like Lyra's. Will becomes the new owner of the subtle knife, a knife so sharp that it can cut portals between worlds. As Will and Lyra travel between worlds, they encounter fallen angels and evil Specters. Mrs. Coulter and her terrifying golden monkey are an ever-present threat. Lord Asriel's betrayal looms over Lyra. The alethiometer tells her she must put her own hopes and dreams aside to help Will find his father. All these elements add up to Lyra maturing and learning to think before she acts.

So here's what I liked:

1) Will. This poor kid. He's had to take on so much responsibility in his short life, protecting his mother from evil men, and then hiding her mental illness from the authorities so they won't take him away from her. It's crazy that one young boy can go through so much. And yet Will doesn't let that break him. He's strong, and brave, and kind. He's an admirable character.

2) The different worlds. I'm a sucker for parallel worlds anyway, but I thought these were really well done. There are worlds like Lyra's and Will's, which are similar enough in that they have a lot of the same cities, buildings, and concepts, just with different names. Then there are worlds that are completely different, like Cittagazze, in which there are only children, because soul-sucking Specters go after the adults. It was always exciting to see which world Will and Lyra would find themselves in next.

3) Lyra's character development. Remember that girl who would almost purposely get herself into terrible situations, just so she could talk her way out? Yeah, she's gone, replaced by a more mature young woman who clearly thinks out what her next move should be. Lyra has learned that one wrong move could risk Will's safety, and that's not something she's willing to do.

4) Will and Lyra's relationship. It's pretty clear in The Subtle Knife that Will has never really had friends before. Friends might mention to their parents that something seems a little off with Will's mom, and then he might be taken away. Lyra seems to be Will's first real friend, and I couldn't help but smile at how quickly they became best friends, and how easily they adapted to each other's company.

I liked this book so much that I powered my way through it, reading it in about half the time it took me to read The Golden Compass. ( )
  Sara.Newhouse | Feb 11, 2016 |
Excellent story, very engaging. Even better than the first in the series (The Golden Compass). ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Not very good, Pullman should have stopped after The Golden Compass. ( )
  biggs1399 | Jan 19, 2016 |
The second book in His Dark Materials series pulled me right in. Lyra, the young heroine from the first book, continues her journey into a world much different from her own. There, she meets Will, a boy from another world who is searching for her father. Lyra and Will are resourceful, but they face their share of challenges. The plot alone makes this a satisfying story. But I was captivated by Pullman's world(s) building. Witches and angels, windows into other worlds, Spectors and a subtle knife - I loved sinking into these worlds. I won't wait long before reading the final volume in the trilogy. ( )
  porch_reader | Jan 6, 2016 |
Loved it! I enjoyed it more than the first book in the series. Excited to read the final book. ( )
  melaniefaith | Dec 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 246 (next | show all)
J. R. R. Tolkien, the granddaddy of modern high fantasy, asserted that the best fantasy writing is marked by ''arresting strangeness.'' Philip Pullman measures up; his work is devilishly inventive. His worlds teem with angels, witches, humans, animal familiars, talking bears and Specters, creatures resembling deadly airborne jellyfish... Put Philip Pullman on the shelf with Ursula K. Le Guin, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, at least until we get to see Volume 3.
 

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Pullmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, CliffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterson, EricCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tutino, AlfredoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Will tugged at his mother's hand and said, "Come on, come on..." But his mother hung back.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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AR 6.2, Pts 16.0
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440238145, Mass Market Paperback)

With The Golden Compass Philip Pullman garnered every accolade under the sun. Critics lobbed around such superlatives as "elegant," "awe-inspiring," "grand," and "glittering," and used "magnificent" with gay abandon. Each reader had a favorite chapter--or, more likely, several--from the opening tour de force to Lyra's close call at Bolvangar to the great armored-bear battle. And Pullman was no less profligate when it came to intellectual firepower or singular characters. The dæmons alone grant him a place in world literature. Could the second installment of his trilogy keep up this pitch, or had his heroine and her too, too sullied parents consumed him? And what of the belief system that pervaded his alternate universe, not to mention the mystery of Dust? More revelations and an equal number of wonders and new players were definitely in order.

The Subtle Knife offers everything we could have wished for, and more. For a start, there's a young hero--from our world--who is a match for Lyra Silvertongue and whose destiny is every bit as shattering. Like Lyra, Will Parry has spent his childhood playing games. Unlike hers, though, his have been deadly serious. This 12-year-old long ago learned the art of invisibility: if he could erase himself, no one would discover his mother's increasing instability and separate them.

As the novel opens, Will's enemies will do anything for information about his missing father, a soldier and Arctic explorer who has been very much airbrushed from the official picture. Now Will must get his mother into safe seclusion and make his way toward Oxford, which may hold the key to John Parry's disappearance. But en route and on the lam from both the police and his family's tormentors, he comes upon a cat with more than a mouse on her mind: "She reached out a paw to pat something in the air in front of her, something quite invisible to Will." What seems to him a patch of everyday Oxford conceals far more: "The cat stepped forward and vanished." Will, too, scrambles through and into another oddly deserted landscape--one in which children rule and adults (and felines) are very much at risk. Here in this deathly silent city by the sea, he will soon have a dustup with a fierce, flinty little girl: "Her expression was a mixture of the very young--when she first tasted the cola--and a kind of deep, sad wariness." Soon Will and Lyra (and, of course, her dæmon, Pantalaimon) uneasily embark on a great adventure and head into greater tragedy.

As Pullman moves between his young warriors and the witch Serafina Pekkala, the magnetic, ever-manipulative Mrs. Coulter, and Lee Scoresby and his hare dæmon, Hester, there are clear signs of approaching war and earthly chaos. There are new faces as well. The author introduces Oxford dark-matter researcher Mary Malone; the Latvian witch queen Ruta Skadi, who "had trafficked with spirits, and it showed"; Stanislaus Grumman, a shaman in search of a weapon crucial to the cause of Lord Asriel, Lyra's father; and a serpentine old man whom Lyra and Pan can't quite place. Also on hand are the Specters, beings that make cliff-ghasts look like rank amateurs.

Throughout, Pullman is in absolute control of his several worlds, his plot and pace equal to his inspiration. Any number of astonishing scenes--small- and large-scale--will have readers on edge, and many are cause for tears. "You think things have to be possible," Will demands. "Things have to be true!" It is Philip Pullman's gift to turn what quotidian minds would term the impossible into a reality that is both heartbreaking and beautiful. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:31 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

As the boundaries between worlds begin to dissolve, Lyra and her daemon help Will Parry in his search for his father and for a powerful, magical knife.

» see all 20 descriptions

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