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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The Subtle Knife (1997)

by Philip Pullman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: His Dark Materials (2)

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18,48527293 (4.06)343
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» See also 343 mentions

English (264)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All (1)  All (271)
Showing 1-5 of 264 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  ArkhamReviews | May 5, 2017 |
This was my favorite of the trilogy, with an in medias res opening and non-stop suspense all the way through to the cliffhanger conclusion. Includes one of my favorite death scenes from any story I've read recently. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
So, all things considered, there are some things I'm not sure I understand, regarding what Asrial and Coulter are trying to do. I mean, I understand that Lord Asrial wants to destroy The Authority (God) and thus end religion and let people live, and Ms. Coulter wants to prevent Eve (Lyra) from falling and reintroducing sin to the world. Basically, everyone in hanging in the middle of a teeter-totter where Will and Lyra have to be an adolescent Adam and Eve and there's people who want to destroy God and let sin be sin and people who want to protect God and destroy sin forever. Oi. Also, WHERE WAS IOREK?? I miss him. Also, LEE AND HESTER. I cried. I did. Hester killed me. I could picture it and she was beautiful and I will miss her. FLY FASTER SERAFINA! ( )
  kamikaze2011 | Jan 8, 2017 |
Engaging but hardly subtle. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Interesting. But as usual lots of parts were really slow or dragged on. It really picked up in the last 40 pages or so and I wish the rest of the book went at that pace. Ending makes me for sure want to read the next one. Digging Will.

Short review is short since I am writing this from my phone. ( )
  s.pando | Nov 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 264 (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 (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pullman, Philipprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, PeterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, CliffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterson, EricCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rohmann, 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)

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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.

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