Review | The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will—a boy on the run, a murderer—a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.

Each is searching—Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father—but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, and their destinies are bound together… until they are split apart.

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4 cupcakes

The universe of His Dark Materials has expanded, both in terms of character additions as well as in terms of the number of worlds we get to explore. It’s plot-driven and fast-paced, leaving little room for readers to get to know the new characters and the new world as intimately as they had with The Golden Compass. Had I read it on its own, rather than reading it immediately after finishing its predecessor, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much.

The Subtle Knife shifts from a Lyra-centric story to one that splits the focus between Lyra, Lee Scoresby (the Aeronaut), and the new character Will. Lyra and Will make an excellent team (10-year-old Erin shipped them so hard) and I love how brave and intrinsically good they are. While I found all of the storylines to be interesting, I was particularly drawn to Lee’s travels, in part because it meant that I got to see my favourite witches again.

The Subtle Knife also further elaborates upon Dust, tying it to theoretical physics and the notion of consciousness. The religious undertones become increasingly less subtle throughout this book and, while I found those segments intriguing, I can understand how they could make others uncomfortable.

Overall, The Subtle Knife feels like a transition between books rather than its own self-contained piece, expanding upon the universe and character set to set the stage for The Amber Spyglass. I’m excited to see where this story goes next!

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2 Comments

  • A couple of years ago I read the whole His Dark Materials series. I really loved it! Currently, I’m reading La Belle Sauvage. Phillip Pullman is such a great author. I think I might reread The Golden Compass soon, because there are so many details I can hardly remember the story. Love your review! (I too ship Will and Lyra.)

    • I just finished La Belle Sauvage – it’s what prompted me to pick up The Golden Compass again. I definitely recommend giving the series a reread – there were so many details that I had missed the first time around. Happy reading!

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