The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife  - Philip Pullman As I'm writing this review, I admit I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. In some respects it is just as good as it's predecessor The Golden Compass (which I rated 4-stars); the writing style is beautiful, intelligent, and some passages ring so incredibly true in my heart that it gives me pause. There were more than a few touching moments, and more than a few moments where I had to just stop and absorb the sheer truth or beauty in them. Then again, as a whole I found 'The Subtle Knife' lacking compared to it's predecessor. Parts of it seemed to drag, possibly due to the multiple narratives; new to this second book. Though I understood the need for it, since many pivotal things are happening simultaneously in various different worlds, it still slowed down my reading, and hindered my overall enjoyment of the book when I compare it to The Golden Compass.

The Subtle Knife begins quite differently from The Golden Compass, as it begins in our world. I found it difficult to find my bearings at first because there seemed to be nothing tying what I was reading to the events of book 1. The story began following Will, a little boy about Lyra's age as he struggles to find somewhere safe to leave his ill mother, because they are being pursued. Although it's not clear at first, and Will's mother's illness seems very much psychological, it was hard to gauge if there was any real danger. Eventually we learn that Will's father was an explorer in our world and may have stumbled upon great and valuable secrets. Secrets that tie into the events of 'The Golden Compass' regarding dust and the travel between worlds. Despite my initial reservations, I have to say I very much liked Will's character. He is a marvelous addition to the cast, and easily equal to Lyra. While I was disappointing that Lyra's voice didn't feature much in the multiple narratives, after having grown to like her so much in book 1, I was pleased to learn about Will while seeing how he perceives Lyra.

Like I mentioned the book alternates between various narratives, namely Will, Seraphina Pekkala and Lee Scorsby. Seeing as the action takes place largely in three different though interconnected worlds, the shift in narratives allows for the reader to be aware of what is going on in the three worlds where it is essential to the story. As much as I adore witches, I found Seraphina's chapters a bit on the slow side. I understood the need for the information that came out of them, but it hindered my enjoyment since I always found myself longing to be back with Will and Lyra. Lee's chapters were a bit more intriguing; I've always liked his character and getting to know more about him was fun, but it did drag a bit too during some parts compared to the Will and Lyra chapters. The character development is certainly where this book shines. It's easy to feel for these characters, their emotions and thoughts are so freaking real! Despite how other-worldly the settings or situations are, the characters seem to live and breathe in a tangible way; a definite highlight for me. At about the halfway point, I felt the story really hit it's stride; we finally discover the titular Subtle Knife and it's quite original and fitting how it works it's way into our main protagonist's lives. I love magical objects and the wonderment they bring!

When it comes right down to it, I think what felt most disappointing to me was the direction in which the plot seems to be evolving. Many big reveals on mysteries established in 'The Golden Compass' really took me by surprise. Namely the true nature of Dust (spoiler- how it is essentially 'angels' and how the story seems to be morphing into some 'Original Sin part 2') I had read that Pullman envisioned His Dark Materials trilogy as a sort of anti-Narnia, so I was surprised at how outright religious it became. I also felt confused when it came right down to it as to who was trying to help Lyra and Will versus who was trying to hinder them. It seems many most of the adults in this story are misguided and presumptuous. Also the Science vs Religion duality seems to have become just as evil on both sides with both hell-bent on war and destruction. Something I felt was much less extremist in nature in the first book The story ends in typical fashion for the second book in a trilogy, meaning with a mean mean cliffhanger. I'm definitely curious to see how the story will turn out, but I can't help feeling a little bit let down by what appears to be the story's clear progression and eventual outcome. So it's settled; I'm rating this book a strong 3 stars and I'm keeping faith (no pun intended) for an enjoyable conclusion to this trilogy.