The Subtle Knife (1997) – Philip Pullman

This week I returned to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy by diving into the sequel, The Subtle Knife.

It picks up right after the first novel, The Golden Compass, as we follow young Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon on her adventures. She finds herself in a strange world, having passed into another realm, unlike her own.

There she encounters young Will, a young boy on the run from our own world. He’s caused the death of a man, and his destiny will be linked with Lyra’s as they discover more about the mysterious thing known as Dust, and what it really is, or may be.

Her father, Lord Asriel, is amassing forces from across worlds to take on the Authority, God, and he has many coming to his side, Angels, witches, and fighting men from a plethora of worlds.

Her mother, Mrs. Coulter is weaving plans of her own, and Lyra will be caught up in them.

As Will and Lyra forge a friendship, they discover a realm haunted by spectres that feed on the will of adults, transforming them into indifferent, almost zombie-like beings.


The books spans worlds and there are lots of story threads in play, including the aeronaut Lee Scoresby, Serafina Pekala the witch, and a physicist from our own world, Dr. Malone.

Things will not be easy for our young heroes, and like in the first book there will be tough choices to be made, new revelations, and new troubles.

Like the first novel, the story completely captivates, and Pullman has crafted his worlds believably, imbuing his characters with life, and creating a story that is revealed in layers, and it’s an epic tale, but it is intimate at the same time, as we are invested in Lyra and Will.

There are a number of religious themes at work in this series, and the plans for Lyra and Will definitely play into those themes, while also combining them with measures of science.

I got caught up in this one a lot, and though I remember nothing of the third book, except that it wrecked me, this one pulled at my heart strings as well, and I didn’t realise how involved with the characters I am.

This story is fantastic and the combining of realms, the spectres, the reveal of the nature of Angels, as well as Asriel’s plans, are all fantastic. And the best part is, you’re not sure what side Lyra should be on. We do know she shouldn’t be on her mother’s side, but does that mean she will be involved on the final assault on the Authority?

There is lots to think about and absorb in this beautiful story, and be warned, it ends on a clffhanger! It’s a good thing I’ve got the third one ready to go!!


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