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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
21,920324117 (4.06)398
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 398 mentions

English (311)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (322)
Showing 1-5 of 311 (next | show all)
My favorite book of the series, but I was reluctant to like it at first. It does a great job of introducing new characters and expanding the world without losing the momentum from the first book. ( )
  adamfortuna | May 28, 2021 |
I came to this not long after seeing the BBC (HBO) television adaptation, and so my own visualisation of the action of the novel was rather influenced by that; not that it spoilt the experience for me. Indeed, there are sufficient differences between the book and series to hold my interest, in terms of seeing what the tv show missed out and how various plot points were advanced for reasons of dramatic timing.

Of the novel itself, I was interested to see that it avoids a lot of "middle book syndrome" through throwing a few upsets into the plot. I continue to feel Lyra to be far more feral in the book than she is depicted in the series; and there's a verbal tic that Pullman keeps on using - characters say "en't" for "isn't" - that seems to be usage from Lyra's world rather than just an affectation of hers, as we hear it from Asriel's servant as well. It still brings to mind Richmal Compton and "Just William" for me, though.

The relationship between Will and Lyra deepens quite quickly over the course of the book. Given that Pullman writes these as pre-adolescents, and pitches them into quite life-threatening situations, this shouldn't really be a surprise, and the subject of relationships is handled quite sensitively. Nonetheless, there is an undercurrent of sexuality implicit in the relationship, given that in these novels, characters' daemons fix their form at puberty, and it is understood that Lyra's daemon, Pantalaimon, is quite aware that this time is approaching. In my case, though, this theme was influenced by my visualisation based on the television series, where the actors depicting Will and Lyra are older than their description in the novel. Young actors usually act down in age anyway, but still, that visualisation may have affected my reading.

The world-building isn't so intricate, as much of the action takes place in our world or the world of Cittagazze. However, the edition I have includes some additional material that Pullman prepared in around 2005 regarding John Parry's expedition. This I found interesting, though it raised something of a question. We now find that the 'Tartar' troops that the Magisterium has access to are from the Imperial Russian Guard (in their universe). This to me implies that in that world, there was no split in the early church that led to the founding of the Orthodox churches, otherwise why would the Imperial Russian Crown be lending out its forces to Rome? Still, given Pullman's anti-clericalism, which becomes more pronounced in this volume, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this. I was also pleased to see that there is a good reason why the witches mostly appear to have Finnish names.

With Lyra's search for more knowledge of Dust bringing her into our world, she comes into contact with scientists, and more particularly with a physicist at "our" Oxford University who is looking into the properties of dark matter. Pullman draws a connection between dark matter and Dust, though quite quickly he introduces more of the properties of Dust from the first novel, which cause the physicist some considerable intellectual distress, as Pullman's Dust possesses some degree of sentience. It was roughly at this point that I began to question whether this novel was science fiction or fantasy; certainly, attributing sentience to dark matter places the book firmly in the fantasy category (let alone the presence of daemons, witches and angels), but the reaction of the human characters to the physical manifestations of the effects of the magical apparatus - Dust, the aleithiometer, the Subtle Knife and the windows between the worlds - seems far more grounded in rationality. I suspect that the author himself would reject such labels anyway.

So: a worthwhile extension of the story begun in 'Northern Lights' that deepens the story. We learn more about Lord Asriel's plans, though this signals a shift to a wider canvas in the final volume. But overall, the quality - though nothing so astonishing for the seasoned reader of the fantastic - is maintained. ( )
3 vote RobertDay | May 6, 2021 |
I have no idea how they're going to make this one into a kid's movie. ( )
  jlweiss | Apr 23, 2021 |
An epic tale about William Parry's search for his father. How he meets and joins forces with Lyra in a different world and they continue together to find his father on their way to Lord Asriel.

Will's character is strong and courageous and together with Lyra they are a formidable force.

Beautifully written, easy to engage with, the story of Lyra's quest continues. ( )
  Matacabras | Apr 10, 2021 |
Date approximate ( )
  fmc712 | Feb 18, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 311 (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 (22 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.
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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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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