Book Review: The Subtle Knife

I just finished reading The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Phillip Pullman (the first book is The Golden Compass). I'm not sure whether this series is getting better or worse, and I find myself wondering if it's even worth getting The Amber Spyglass (the 3rd installment) and pushing myself through it. Because these books are, for me, an uphill climb.

In this book we rejoin Lyra (the not quite likeable protagonist from the first book) in a new world on her quest to do whatever it is that she's supposed to be doing. She doesn't know. We don't really know. And frankly, it doesn't seem as if she actually cares a whit one way or the other, being stuck in her self-absorbed, spoiled little world. She's the kind of person that would have no friends at all if she were real, though she probably would have a group of vapid hangers on who were trying to decide if she could do anything for them. (Hmm...sounds like she'd be a member of the young Hollywood set.) We also meet Will Parry.

Will is a young boy (I'm guessing 13ish) from our world who has been caring for his unstable mother and trying to defend her from the real-life bad guys who are after her. He ends up escaping into an alternate world while he's running away from said bad guys and stumbles across Lyra. In fact, this book is much more a story about Will and less about Lyra (though she does manage to muck up the works plenty), which makes it considerably more tolerable. Because Will is a character who you can actually like.

Sadly, this book is a middle book. While The Golden Compass had a beginning, middle, and end, The Subtle Knife is a bridge between the events of TGC and The Amber Spyglass. Though I suppose you could, loosely, say the plot of this book is Will's search for his father. It's just that that plot gets lost with all the machinations that go into building up the "plot" that is supposed to be tying the series together. I think that this broader plot is a recreation of the fall of rebellious angels, Adam and Eve, and the creation of the world. Except that in these books I get the distinct feeling that we're meant to be on the side of the scientists who are out to help the rebelling angels defeat/kill God. Though I can't say that for certain as, honestly, it's confusing and fuddled. (This may be only true for me - like I said, I find these books unbearably slow. So while forcing myself to read two pages before I can put it down again, I probably miss a lot.)

Anyway, while I gave The Golden Compass points for a tightly knit story and an enjoyable ride, I can't really do that for The Subtle Knife. Realistically I'll sludge through the 3rd one to see if I can figure out what the heck they're about, but for now I will simply award The Subtle Knife 2 Daggers out of 5 and end with: read at your own risk. (Though it's a good cure for insomnia.)

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