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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
21,054309117 (4.06)394
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.
  1. 73
    The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Leishai)
    Leishai: Also a story about fantasy with another world
  2. 52
    Wizard And Glass by Stephen King (levasssp)
    levasssp: or any of the Dark Tower series...similarities include an ability to travel between different, but closely related, worlds through portals or doors. Additionally, there are themes of religion, good/bad and questions about "essence" that are similar in both series.… (more)
  3. 21
    The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers (Leishai)
  4. 11
    Lycidas by Christoph Marzi (Leishai)
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» See also 394 mentions

English (295)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (306)
Showing 1-5 of 295 (next | show all)
The second book in Pullman’s ‘His dark materials’ trilogy requires much closer reading than the first and is also much darker in tone. It introduces us to Will Parry for the first time. Will is a lad of 12 who is trying to protect his mother from mysterious, threatening questioners. In addition he is trying to discover what has happened to his father who has been missing for around 10 years. In the course of his quest, Will accidentally stumbles across a window into another world. There he meets Lyra who has left her world through the rent that Lord Asriel made at the end of ‘Northern lights’. The worlds that Will and Lyra came from are similar to each other and both are controlled by the Magisterium, a religious organisation, and it emerges that Asriel’s aim is to destroy its power. After some initial antagonism and suspicion, Lyra and Will join forces to find their fathers.
Pullman recreates the three worlds and the various quests going on between the main protagonists with telling and contrasting details as the Magisterium and Mrs. Coulter chase and close in on Lyra and Will and also Asriel and John Parry. This makes for an absorbing, exciting and captivating tale as the advantage fluctuates between the groups.
  camharlow2 | Jul 9, 2020 |
Oh how I loved thee. Let me count the ways.

Seriously though. This book was phenomenal. I know that Moonlight Reader and I cannot wait to get to the final book in this trilogy. We plan on starting the third book, The Amber Spyglass as part of our #FridayReads.

Here is my review of book one, Wonderful Beginning to His Dark Materials Trilogy. When Moonlight finishes her reviews I will add links here so you can read them. Looks like we finally got some good book mojo our way.

Spoilers for those who have not read The Golden Compass.

So after the events of the last book, where Lyra now calling herself Lyra Silvertongue has found out that her father is Lord Asriel and her mother is Mrs. Coulter. Lord Asriel has killed her best friend Roger and used that death to punch a doorway into another world. Lord Asriel has plans to take down "death" itself. Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon have decided to follow Lord Asriel and do whatever is necessary to stop him.

Seriously though. Lyra has the worst parents ever. Your heart breaks for her and you realize how brave she is in order to do what is necessary to stop Lord Asriel after her inadvertent treachery led to Lord Asriel's bigger treachery.

Now book two begins in our world.

A young boy named Will doing his best to hide his mother while he goes looking for his missing father. Some strange men keep coming to Will's house and asking for something that they think his father may have sent to them. Will manages to find a hidden opening and walks into another world and finds Lyra. Joining up, the two children realize that they need one another in order to do what the alethiometer tells Lyra she must do, which is find Will's father with him.

The character of Will won my heart. That kid had sheer bravery in the face of extreme odds. Lyra likens him to Iorek Brynison and he really is like him and also just like him gets Lyra to stop and think before she jumps in head first to take people on.

Lyra matures throughout book two. She realizes that she needs to be more careful of what she does without thinking it through because it can mean Will's death. In Lyra's head the worst thing to do would be to betray or lose him, she truly loves him and he becomes her best friend.

We have secondary characters who are no less important like Serafina Pekkala who is a straight up boss in this book. I shudder for Mrs. Coulter because Serafina is all about making sure all debts are owed in the end.

Also we get more points of view by Lee Scoresby who just like Serafina, loves Lyra for her own sake and will do what is necessary to take care of her.


I don't know if I can forgive Phillip Pullman for what happened to this character. I started crying. It was straight up heart wrenching.


We also get some new big bads in this book and the reappearance of Mrs. Coulter and her horrible golden monkey. Lord Asriel is discussed and I don't know if this is leaning towards him being a good guy or what. I am not here for Lord Asriel’s redemption. I hope Lyra sticks a knife through him. Wow I have gotten quite blood thirsty reading these books.

The writing was fantastic. I once again have to give Phillip Pullman kudos for how he incorporated religious symbols and other stories from the Bible in this book. We have a discussion of angels and of Dust and Dark Matter. I really think it was smartly done. The pacing was perfect too. I was holding my breath up until the very last pages. And the book ending on a cliffhanger gave me a momentary feeling of WTF but I quickly got over it since I now I am reading book three on Friday.

The setting of the different worlds was great. I can't wait to read more about the bearer of the knife, spectres, and daemons. I felt like I was right there with Lyra and Will and I now more than ever wish that the movies would have done the first book justice. I swear these days unless it's on t.v. people don't take their time with stories like this.

The ending like I said is quite a cliffhanger. I think it was smartly done because you do want to keep readers coming back for me. I was still frustrated because I really did want to know what happens next.

I don't know how I am going to last til Friday! ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
Later...

It is so surprising to me that the thing I found vastly irritating right at page one of the first of this series - the daemon - so quickly captivated me. You have this daemon in you, all of us, just as the story goes. And as a child it is anything, it has the fantastical vision that children have, there is nothing to stop it. But then we mostly grow up and we mostly lose the idea that we can do anything, we lose imagination, we lose the unconscious bravery of our childhood, we lose the intrepidness and curiosity with which we were born. And so our daemon can no longer be anything. It is a static reflection of the settled thing we become as we move into adulthood. Well, I cling to the idea that whether or not I've grown up, I nonetheless have a daemon which can be anything but I dare say that’s fanciful.

Daemons die. They die because they were fighting for you, or because you couldn't fight hard enough for them, or because they are spurned - there are at least some things your daemon can be that thrive on the nourishment that is given them by others. You can't fight to save it because you can't force people see it the right way. They take away the thing that succoured your daemon and made it and you blossom, you see it lying on the ground, dying, and there is nothing you can do. You can't save it, only other people can.

If you think about it, when you read these books, the reason you feel so utterly gutted whenever one of these creatures dies, is because you know what it feels like. You know that what is being described is exactly something dying in you, a process of loss that makes you a lesser person. Grey replaces lit-up, fear replaces joy, a sick pit in your stomach replaces a heart that beat too much from happiness. These things happen and in a heart-beat something infinitely precious is being severed from you. And I feel as helpless in their path as a small child watching something monstrously large taking their daemon away. And I guess like a small child I watch and hope something even bigger will come along and save us.


-----------------------

A satire on the nature of academic research that one can only compare favourably with David Lodge’s work in this area.

“‘Shadows are particles of consciousness. You ever heard anything so stupid? No wonder we can’t get our grant renewed.’….’It’s Dust,’ said Lyra authoritatively. ‘That’s what it is.’ ‘But you see, you can’t say this sort of thing in a funding application if you want to be taken seriously. It does not make sense. It cannot exist. It’s impossible, and if it isn’t impossible it’s irrelevant, amd if it isn’t either of those things it’s embarrassing.’….’Everything about this is embarrassing, she said. ‘D’you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? Have you any idea?’ One of the reasons I became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing.’ ‘You’ve got to think about it,’ said Lyra severely.”

Lyra, you see, is a child, so unlike research academics, she can have a plain interest in the truth.

Later on, beginning p. 250 is a terribly amusing exchange between Dr Malone, trying to live up to the virtuous Lyra, her research associate who wants to take the money with the strings and Sir Charles, puller of the strings and more powerful than any piddly peer review. I love the part where he tries to seduce them with the lure of defence money if they tow the right line.

But quite best of all, right near the end, the wonderful line of another child, Will, who, when a witch says ‘"No. No! That can’t be true. Impossible!"’ retorts so angrily with the simple clear mind of unaffected honesty: ‘"You think things have to be possible? Things have to be true"'.

I would love to live by these words.
( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Later...

It is so surprising to me that the thing I found vastly irritating right at page one of the first of this series - the daemon - so quickly captivated me. You have this daemon in you, all of us, just as the story goes. And as a child it is anything, it has the fantastical vision that children have, there is nothing to stop it. But then we mostly grow up and we mostly lose the idea that we can do anything, we lose imagination, we lose the unconscious bravery of our childhood, we lose the intrepidness and curiosity with which we were born. And so our daemon can no longer be anything. It is a static reflection of the settled thing we become as we move into adulthood. Well, I cling to the idea that whether or not I've grown up, I nonetheless have a daemon which can be anything but I dare say that’s fanciful.

Daemons die. They die because they were fighting for you, or because you couldn't fight hard enough for them, or because they are spurned - there are at least some things your daemon can be that thrive on the nourishment that is given them by others. You can't fight to save it because you can't force people see it the right way. They take away the thing that succoured your daemon and made it and you blossom, you see it lying on the ground, dying, and there is nothing you can do. You can't save it, only other people can.

If you think about it, when you read these books, the reason you feel so utterly gutted whenever one of these creatures dies, is because you know what it feels like. You know that what is being described is exactly something dying in you, a process of loss that makes you a lesser person. Grey replaces lit-up, fear replaces joy, a sick pit in your stomach replaces a heart that beat too much from happiness. These things happen and in a heart-beat something infinitely precious is being severed from you. And I feel as helpless in their path as a small child watching something monstrously large taking their daemon away. And I guess like a small child I watch and hope something even bigger will come along and save us.


-----------------------

A satire on the nature of academic research that one can only compare favourably with David Lodge’s work in this area.

“‘Shadows are particles of consciousness. You ever heard anything so stupid? No wonder we can’t get our grant renewed.’….’It’s Dust,’ said Lyra authoritatively. ‘That’s what it is.’ ‘But you see, you can’t say this sort of thing in a funding application if you want to be taken seriously. It does not make sense. It cannot exist. It’s impossible, and if it isn’t impossible it’s irrelevant, amd if it isn’t either of those things it’s embarrassing.’….’Everything about this is embarrassing, she said. ‘D’you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? Have you any idea?’ One of the reasons I became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing.’ ‘You’ve got to think about it,’ said Lyra severely.”

Lyra, you see, is a child, so unlike research academics, she can have a plain interest in the truth.

Later on, beginning p. 250 is a terribly amusing exchange between Dr Malone, trying to live up to the virtuous Lyra, her research associate who wants to take the money with the strings and Sir Charles, puller of the strings and more powerful than any piddly peer review. I love the part where he tries to seduce them with the lure of defence money if they tow the right line.

But quite best of all, right near the end, the wonderful line of another child, Will, who, when a witch says ‘"No. No! That can’t be true. Impossible!"’ retorts so angrily with the simple clear mind of unaffected honesty: ‘"You think things have to be possible? Things have to be true"'.

I would love to live by these words.
( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Re-read, 11/5/19:

I think I still enjoy the emphasis on the extended worldbuilding in this book more than the flavor of the characters. Lyra is somewhat diminished, unable to shine in the Big Happenings of the first book, relegated either to lying (unsuccessfully) to a relative suburbia world, losing her way, and relying an awful lot on Will, her new friend.

Will, on the other hand, is only really interesting when he holds a knife.

*shrug* I found all the villains in our tale much more interesting. And the worldbuilding, of course. Lots of sympathy for the devil stuff going on here.

That being said, I'm not sure I really enjoyed this particular alternate-reality hop's direction. Sure, the place is about as subtle (from our world) as the knife from my kitchen drawer, but I also admit I enjoyed the concept of the knife quite a bit.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this book more than anything else.


Original review:

There's less action and a hell of a lot more story-meat in this book. I'm enjoying it immensely, especially for all of the John Milton tones. It also has a beautiful synthesis of anthropology and religion that I can't help but giggle at. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 295 (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 (33 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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First words
Will tugged at his mother's hand and said, "Come on, come on..." But his mother hung back.
Quotations
“I’m only an ignorant aëronaut. I’m so damn ignorant I believed it when I was told that shamans had the gift of flight, for example. Yet here’s a shaman who hasn’t.”

“Oh, but I have.”

“How d’you make that out?”

The balloon was drifting lower, and the ground was rising. […]

“I needed to fly,” said Grumman, “so I summoned you, and here I am, flying.”
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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