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69 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary fantasy with unusual theological underpinnings
This book brings to an end a rich and strange fantasy trilogy. The books tackle huge themes: the nature of consciousness, the Fall, the relationship between body and soul, and the conflict between what Pullman calls the Kingdom of Heaven and the Republic of Heaven.
It's interesting to think about this trilogy in comparison with C S Lewis's "Narnia" chronicles...
Published on December 12, 2000 by Mr. T. Pitt-payne

84 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and unfocused
I loved "The Golden Compass." I was intrigued by "The Subtle Knife." And I tried to prepare myself to be a little disappointed by "The Amber Spyglass"-- trilogy conclusions are rarely as good as the first book. But I had hopes. The first two were so good....
This was nowhere near as good.
The various plot threads are all wrapped up,...
Published on November 21, 2000 by E. Dalton

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84 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and unfocused, November 21, 2000
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I loved "The Golden Compass." I was intrigued by "The Subtle Knife." And I tried to prepare myself to be a little disappointed by "The Amber Spyglass"-- trilogy conclusions are rarely as good as the first book. But I had hopes. The first two were so good....
This was nowhere near as good.
The various plot threads are all wrapped up, more or less. But the ending is forced. Other reviewers have pointed out the flat and inconsistent characterizations, the scattered plot, the valueless sub-threads (like Father Gomez). The useless spyglass. And even those who loved the book found the ending of the romance disappointing.
Ultimately, the book fails to deliver on the themes that were begun in "The Golden Compass," including one of the most important. Am I simply not getting it? How was Lyra's position anything comparable to Eve's? She finds love (with almost no character build up), she gives it up for the sake of the world(s). As other readers have noted, she's arguably a Christ character. But not much like Eve. Unless you count the temptation to sex (in a world with giant apple trees that contain the essence of sentience), and frankly, I don't think that was especially plausable. Eve, according to Judeo-Christian theology, succumbs to temptation (for knowledge, not sex) and gets everyone kicked out of Eden. I suppose Lyra resists temptation (to continue a relationship) to help everyone build a new Eden. But it's a tenuous connection at best, because the "only one window, not two" argument is so weak and last-minute, and she and Will can only affect one world each at best, with no way to travel between them. (And if Pullman wanted to redefine Eve to mean something else, a lot more work was needed.)
Aother of the great disappointments was the hesitant flirting with Wisdom. Evidently Pullman has come across feminist spirituality interpretations of gnostic gospels and eastern church references to a female Wisdom character (Sophia) who predates Yaweh (in some traditions). I kept waiting for him to develop this theme. Instead she (Xaphania, the only female angel) merely appears as a "Deus ex machina" and answers the kids' questions before sending them on home. I suppose Pullman realized he was getting too close to replacing a God with a Goddess, and backed down rather than give up his anti-theistic theme. I suppose that's forgivable, if all he wanted to do was write entertaining fiction. But if he wanted to actually make a point about theism, it's an act of cowardice.
Unlike most other reviewers who panned this book, I don't mind the anti-organized-religion slant. As a Quaker, I'm not much on organized religion myself. I didn't think the book is as inherently anti-Christian as some of the reviewers seemed to think, either. To my mind, Lucretia Mott had it right when she encouraged us to "doubt more, in order that we might believe more." Looking at other possible theologies can help us get at the root of what we really believe. But I think Pullman ran out of steam --or maybe even courage-- before he finished developing his ideas. This book needed at least one more major rewrite before publishing, to shake out the loose pieces and add the richness to the characters and themes that was so evident in his earlier books. Maybe Pullman was just too tired to do the necessary work. Or maybe the publisher was impatient. Or maybe Pullman himself started to lose faith in his anti-theism, and didn't have the courage to write details that would force him to acknowledge his dependency on divine powers in the story (Xaphenia, the angels, and most of all, Dust).
I gave it three stars, because it's worth reading, if you liked the first two, just to tie up the loose threads. But it's not on par with them.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "War is Coming. I Can Hear it Approaching...", November 5, 2004
R. M. Fisher "Ravenya" (New Zealand = Middle Earth!) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
At the end of "The Subtle Knife", things were dire. Lyra had been kidnapped by her mother Mrs Coulter, whilst Will was left in the company of two angels with the subtle knife (which can create windows between worlds) and the altheiometer (that communicates with the mystery substance known as `Dust'). Refusing to accompany them to Lord Asriel, who is on the verge of war with Heaven itself, Will enlists the angels help in tracking down Lyra, and is soon joined by Iorek Byrnison, the king of the polar bears. Meanwhile, Lyra herself is forced into an enchanted sleep by her mother, whilst the powers of the Church and the Authority close in to end her life and thus the terrible threat she poses against them. When the two children are reunited, they hatch a plan to go right to the end of where the subtle knife can take them; right into death itself.

Mary Malone, who has been told that she must "play the serpent", has reached a world where elephantine creatures wheel along on giant seedpods, and may just have the final key to unravelling the mystery of Dust. Pullman brings out all of his previous creations: witches, Spectres, angels, gyptains, daemons and cliff-ghasts are all here in full force, each with a part to play in one of the most exciting, controversial, imaginative and thought-provoking books in recent history. Yet unlike the previous books, "The Golden Compass" and "The Subtle Knife", "The Amber Spyglass" has a few faults that does not make it quite the awe-inspiring finale I had hoped it would be.

Out of all three books, this one is the most blatantly anti-religious; in particular anti-Christian. Now, I have my own religious convictions (though what they are irrelevant to this review), and a critique of faith is hardly going to endanger them. It was easy enough for me to thoroughly enjoy a book without agreeing to its message. After all, religion is a human construct, and I'm sure I'm not the only religious person to recognise atrocities that have occurred by self-righteous fanatics in the name of `religion'. But Pullman takes this one step further and is anti-God. In his literary creation, God was not the creator, but simply the first intelligent being to come into existence. Again, I wasn't that disgruntled: I had to admire the sheer nerve Pullman displays in taking on the concept of God, and anyone who has read "Paradise Lost" (on which these books are based) know that Satan comes across as an epic hero, whilst God is somewhat of a bore.

No, what bothered me about this book was the general attitude held toward all religious people: at all times there is no good that can come from having faith in a deity of any kind, and no chance of a coexistence between those that have faith and those that don't. In my opinion, the key to peace on earth is not religion, nor atheism, but *tolerance*. Pullman displays none of this, and seems to be saying that only way to deal with religious people is with scorn and mockery. Any impressionable young reader will most likely be inspired and enlightened by Pullman's books, but on taking his standpoint, they may also adopt a negative attitude toward anyone that does not conform to atheist beliefs. Just as the stereotype of a Christian is an uptight, Bible-bashing bigot, atheists are steadily coming across as smug, arrogant dictators. Neither is particularly becoming, and the differences between the two extremes aren't really that different. I say again, tolerance is what the world needs, and Pullman shows none of this.

As well as this, there are some very basic mistakes, which come across as sloppy writing - something I thought I'd never, ever accuse Pullman of doing. Serafina is practically forgotten, and the plot thread concerning the arrow she prepares for Mrs Coulter comes to an empty conclusion. Huge amounts of time are given to preparing Asriel's army and the forces he controls, and yet we never hear the outcome of this physical battle. Lord Asriel's statement in book 1 about how he plans to destroy Dust now makes no sense, and Pullman is forced to pull a 360 and claim that Asriel was lying. Lyra claims that she overheard the witch-consul Lanselius comments on her role in the witch-prophesy. But in book 1 Pullman specifically states: "She must fulfil this destiny in ignorance of what she is doing." If she'd overheard this, then she wouldn't be in ignorance, and the prophecy negates itself. As well as this, Pullman tells us that the prophecy concerning Lyra's betrayal occurs when she leaves Pan behind when she crosses into the land of the dead. Not only do I fail to see how this was a betrayal (she had no choice!), but I thought the betrayal had occurred in book 1 when Lyra led Roger to his death. Because I thought it had already happened, my anticipation hadn't been building up for this `real' betrayal.

Then there's the matter of the Gallivespians. Although they are wonderful creations (miniature people with poisonous spurs on their heels) the two that accompany Will and Lyra have no real purpose. The altheiometer insists that they are needed, but on close inspection all they do is convince the harpies of a deal, and get Lyra angry enough to see her Death. In other words, they do squat, at least not enough that justifies their presence, and do nothing that Will and Lyra couldn't do themselves.

At the end of the day, "His Dark Materials" is essential reading, and I don't think any book has stimulated my mind as much as these. Despite some faults in this final book, and an infuriating sense of superiority in the narrator's voice, I have read the trilogy numerous times and enjoy it more each time. Thanks Philip Pullman for an unforgettable, intoxicating, extraordinary read - but I'm still not an atheist.
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69 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary fantasy with unusual theological underpinnings, December 12, 2000
This book brings to an end a rich and strange fantasy trilogy. The books tackle huge themes: the nature of consciousness, the Fall, the relationship between body and soul, and the conflict between what Pullman calls the Kingdom of Heaven and the Republic of Heaven.
It's interesting to think about this trilogy in comparison with C S Lewis's "Narnia" chronicles. Like Lewis, Pullman writes out of total immersion in the Western literary tradition. His obvious influences are Blake, Milton and the Book of Genesis: but there are also traces of Homer (e.g. the fight between Iorek and Iofur in the first book of the trilogy reads like a clash of two Homeric heroes). At a less exalted level, I suspect that Kingsley Amis's "The Alteration" contributed something to Pullman's picture of an alternative Oxford. But in Tolkien's words a book like this is written "out of the leaf-mould of the mind", and if one can discern the shape of one or two of the leaves that doesn't in any sense devalue the originality of the work.
Both the Narnia Chronicles and Pullman's trilogy are imaginative responses to the Christian tradition. The difference between Pullman and Lewis is that Lewis's reading of the Bible is that of orthodox Christianity, whereas Pullman's reading derives from Blake and from Gnosticism. In Pullman's version of events, the God of the Old Testament is not the creator of the Universe, but is a lesser figure (like a very powerful angel), and also a tyrant; the serpent in Eden is an embodiment of wisdom, not a malevolent force; and Eve is a heroine, whose choice of experience over innocence is the very thing that makes us human. The Church is seen in unremittingly bleak terms: Pullman's Church is a synthesis of the worst bits of medieval and Counter-Reformation Catholicism with the worst bits of Calvinism.
Is the book anti-Christian? It's certainly anti-Church, and in a sense also anti-God. But the most curious omission in the book is that Pullman (unlike Blake and unlike the Gnostics) appears at first sight to have nothing at all to say about Jesus (either directly or allegorically). Yet at the same time, although his heroine Lyra is presented as a new Eve, she also has Christ-like characteristics: a child whose destiny is to save the world, threatened by cosmic forces, and capable of sacrificing herself for love (even at the cost of a descent into hell). Pullman would certainly endorse St Paul's view (on this point if on no other) that the greatest love is to lay down one's life for one's friend. In short, the book embodies what are usually regarded as Christian values, but it then uses those very values to attack both the Church and the God who is portrayed in the Old Testament.
Should you read the book? If you are interested in speculative fiction or in theology, then yes. Like C S Lewis, Pullman is the sort of author who can be a gateway into the Western literary tradition. Like Lewis also, he needs to be read consciously. Agnostic parents who give their children the Narnia books should be aware that these books are brilliant Christian propaganda. And Christian parents who give their children Pullman's trilogy should be aware that it 's brilliant Gnostic propaganda.
In short the comparison with Narnia is apt (despite, or perhaps because, of the fact that Pullman has gone on record about how much he hates the Narnia books). In both cases readers may get considerably more than they bargained for!
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74 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly amazing work of art�, October 4, 2000
Of the books in the `His Dark Materials' trilogy; the sighs of relief, and gasps of wonder and dismay in the Golden Compass; the cliffhanging apprehension, and the extreme suspense in Subtle Knife... and of the sheer brilliance, and intense power, of The Amber Spyglass, this one tops each of them. This extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime literary work of art is most likely the most magnificent and stunningly vivid of the entire trilogy. From the first page, to the last, Phillip Pullman grips your imagination and your entire being throughout the entire book, never misses a beat, and never lets go... The characters seem more tangible and real then you have ever seen them before, so you laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, and gasp in unison. Every plot, sub-plot, and every fundamental cliffhanger is resolved in an uncannily skilled way. But this trilogy is not just a story for children... in fact; it's much deeper then what lies in the surface. And even if you see just what's on the surface it's still a great ride, but then you begin to wonder, and that takes you deeper, and deeper until you have a secure understanding on what's really being said in these books. Impressive, awe-inspiring, wondrous, and at many times the most heart-wrenching book I've ever experienced, none of there words can fully characterize, specify, or describe The Amber Spyglass in its purest, and most moving form. Phillip Pullman has created something more entertaining, engaging, fulfilling, and absorbing then anything like it to date... but come to think of it, there is nothing quite like it, and there never will be anything quite like it. These three books are literally one of a kind, and nothing will be quite the same in one's eyes once they have been experienced.
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88 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Different Christianity, November 14, 2000
By A Customer
The Amber Spyglass, at its heart, seems to say that Christianity is a powerful mistake. Throughout the book, the Church is portrayed as evil, and even 'God' himself is shown to be a deceiving character, not the creator. However, the books are not rationalistic and materialistic in their outlook; they create a whole different theology cobbled together out of human spritual traditions.
In fact, the book can be shown to be unconsciously Christian, and a beautiful reaffirmation of the greatest Christian values which we sometimes tend to forget. In our haste to 'follow the Bible' we sometimes forget who Christ was- a saviour to set Mankind free. Although Pullman has stated that he wanted to revel in the physical world, and intended this book as an alternative to CS Lewis' Narnia, there is an unconscious Christian thread running through the book. First off, has anyone wondered why, with 'christianity', there is no Christ? And that God is so weak?
In reality the God shown in the book is not God at all, but a sort of Satan figure, an antichrist. He calls himself God, but as the angels tell us, he is not the creator. In reality, who is the creator, we learn? It is Dust. And in fact, there is a strong case for showing that Dust is God in this book (although this may seem absurd, bear with me for a while. While we think of God as singular, we think of Dust as plural. Just think of Dust as the essence of God).
In the book, Dust pervades the world, and is the source of the greatest joys. Out of it were all things made. So, let us assume Dust is a sort of non-personal God. In the world, it is the source of spirituality. The Church is a institiution of fanatics, a distortion of Christianity. It is the false church set up by an antichrist.
Now comes Christ. Who is Christ in the book? The answer is, Lyra. Her adventures have a very Christ-like feel to them: she frees the people to search for truth (Christ: 'the truth shall set you free'); she saves the world(s) from sin and fanaticism; she reaffirms the existence of love and the holiness of Dust; and she frees the dead to return to God in the world (to mingle with the Dust).
As for the nature of this 'god', Dust. Too often we think of God as a human, only more powerful, wise, and kindly. Why does God have to be of this type? Can't God be a spirituality, a consciousness, a great and holy essence, that fills the world and clusters around those beings that are conscious? The history of our world, as Serafina Pekkala puts it, is "one long struggle between those who want you to obey and submit, and those who want you to stand tall and think". Only, the Church that we have viewed as Christianity had become corrupted by lesser men only a few hundred years after Christ. Those who are truly spiritual and call themselves Christian will find that they need not be tied down to the Bible always, and that consciousness is the greatest gift of all. Holiness is in thought, not in repeating words mindlessly. And this book is truly great. It reveals to us these values, and it awes us. Truly a book for the ages.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, Thought-Provoking, October 29, 2000
I finished the book today.. I would have finished it yesterday, on the day that I bought it, but I had to force myself to put it down at 2am. It's a great book, a very nice conclusion to the series. It's also wonderfully thought-provoking. If you didn't know that he was remaking Paradise Lost before this book, you probably got a few jolts.. you don't read this blatant a criticism of Christianity in a mainstream work. Even though I am a Christian, I find it to be a good thing. There were many good points made -- the existence of the soul as seperate from spirit and body, the daemons, the trip to the world of the dead. Freeing the ghosts from their prison sounds awfully Christ-like to me (returning from the world of the dead, alive). Heaven on Earth and joining a harmonious universe at the end, the nature of sin and the power of love.. these are thoughts worth examining, not dismissing outright. I had no trouble reading this book with my own beliefs intact. If yours are so shaky, then perhaps you shouldn't try.
Oh, and as for it being a children's book.. I was given the earlier books by a friend and I had no idea that it was not classified as adult fantasy until I was trying looking for the Amber Spyglass in the adult section. The tradition of categorizing any book with young characters as a 'children's book' is outdated and ridiculous. This is a book for anyone not afraid to think, or to feel. Too scary for children? Lord of the Rings is loved by children and adults alike, despite death, scary things, and a melancholy ending. There is nothing terribly graphic, although it may be hard to follow for the younger readers. Like A Wrinkle in Time and its successors, The Amber Spyglass probably won't be fully appreciated until the reader is older, but it will be a book that they will be glad to revisit and discover new levels within.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't Raise the Bar If You Can't Maintain the Height, June 3, 2008
Magical! Provocative! Inspired! Genius On Paper! Crap!

I was totally swept away into the worlds of His Dark Materials, and then half way through The Amber Spyglass, I lost it.

(WARNING! This will contain spoilers!)

It was as if Phillip Pullman set down his pin and let a much more incapable person finish up. So many story plots were left unfinished, untouched. There is SO MUCH stigma and story and expectation about the subtle knife and how it is a "god killer", but it is just dropped and becomes pointless. The authority gets taken out by a breeze!

What ever happened to the betrayal of Asirel? He kills Lyra's friend, in a most cruel way, and then goes on a holy crusade of sorts... And Mrs. Coulter, in The Subtle Knife, seems to be bent on killing Lyra, and if I'm not mistaken plans to do so, then in the Spyglass she is trying to protect her... Make up my mind for me!

Lyra's "choice" and Eve like fate, due to Mary's temptation, which is a huge plot point in the first two books is almost totally passes over in 2 paragraphs, and is nothing as dramatic as the other books seem to make it out to be. I thought Lyra was "destined to bring about the end of destiny," and that she was going to be the new Eve. Pullman seems to have an interesting interpretation of the story of Eve at any rate.

The obvious solution to Will and Lyra's problem of staying together is not even discussed. If the angles can deal with the specters that have been created every time a window is opened (which is also a week explanation), why can't they deal with the few specters that would be created for Will and Lyra to remain together?

There are several more instances where this book falls short of the bar raised in the first two in the series, but for the sake of going into a full out rant, I will simply say this, Pullman should not have raised such a high level of expectation. I burned through the first two books because I was totally enveloped in the story, and I found myself begging for more, but what I got was a total disappointment, and if there were any kind of legal precedent for suing an author for my money back for the cost of the book and the length of time it took me to read the story I would.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anti-Christian? Pah!, November 29, 2000
Pullman has written a beautiful novel, his meticulous editor must also be worth a mention, and I read the whole thing in two sessions interrupted only by work. Reading is always a pleasure but a finely crafted piece like this is a special treat. Pullman summarises his work ethic as "Read like a butterfly, write like a bee." It is easy to see that this novel must have required a lot of both types of insect behaviour. My 12 year old daughter, for whom I bought it ;-) loved it and considers the series among her favourites, well up with Harry Potter and William Horwood's Duncton novels. I note with dismay that a significant number of reviewers marked this book down because of the theme, which does not support their Judeo-Christian viewpoint. Sad really; the Koran doesn't get criticised for differing from someone else's views. I suggest that, unless you are unable to tolerate alternative viewpoints, this is a great work, with a very positive message, well up to Pullman's usual extraordinary standard and you will consider it well worth the price of purchase. This is not a religious novel so don't read it as such. A word to those who have not read the preceding volumes; buy all three now, read them one after the other. This is a story in three volumes and deserves to be read as such. I wish there had been books like this when I was a child.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blakean cosmology, heartbreak, joy ... what's not to love?, October 13, 2000
Given the time and delays involved in the writing of THE AMBER SPYGLASS, I was initially afraid that it wouldn't live up to the huge expectations raised by the first two books. The first hundred pages or so, too, seemed slower and less tightly written than the previous volumes. Fortunately, this turns out to be only a building of tension before the near-apocalyptic events the book describes, and Pullman carries off his conclusion in brilliant theological, emotional, and literary fashion. Pullman shows his normal invention throughout The two-layered ending of the book is both joyous and painful, and is a masterpiece of the art of writing for both children and adults; nothing is explicitly sexual, but the finale is deeply erotic nonetheless.
Much mention has been made of the book being a kind of sequel to PARADISE LOST; undoubtedly true, but remember that it also makes great use of the works of that other prophet, William Blake (whose MILTON, of course, is a sequel to PARADISE LOST in itself.) The joy of the body and the mind, unchained by religion, is one of the main themes of the book. The book is, of course, deeply religious, even mystical, in its imagery, language, and feeling, but its overall message is one of a powerful imaginative atheism.
Some readers might be disturbed by this message. After all, this is a book that says, quite clearly, that "Christianity is a very powerful and convincing mistake." Myself, I'm all for it, and I think that Christian parents should allow their children to be challenged by the message of the book, but, if you feel strongly about such things, be warned.
The one element of the book I would question is the subplot involving the mulefa (diamond-wheeled creatures in an alternate ecology) which seems disconcertingly science-fictional, and which lack the fantastical resonance of the other creatures in the trilogy. They seem included largely to make a point, not by virtue of their own interest, and those sections, while necessary to the overall plot, slow the book down. Still, it's a minor flaw in what is probably the greatest sequence of novels, for adults *or* children, published in the last decade or two.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could have been so much better, May 23, 2001
What a shame that this book didn't live up to the potential it had to offer, given the scene that had been set by the prequels (Northern Lights/Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife).
I confess particular fondness of the subject material in these books as I myself was a student in Turl Street, Oxford, reading physics - aka experimental theology - and now an ex-christian.
I read the three books one after the other and I agree with several other reviewers that the first two books were superb in their development of characters and personalities, the discussion of ideas, the clever storylines and the tempo of the narratives.
You can imagine how keen I was to start the Amber Spyglass when a few dozen pages in, I suddenly discovered I was losing interest in the whole enterprise. Whereas I couldn't put down the other books, this one started to bore me almost immediately. I felt that the logical consistency of the first two books was being unravelled in this one, there are sudden changes in ideas and personalities and the whole story becomes piecemeal. There are some characters which are almost bogus (Father Gomez) and he could even have got away without using the world of the mulefa. There is more than one occasion where there is confusion in the plot, with the abilities of various spectres, daemons, ghosts and angels and so on. I feel that several times Pullman uses sleight of hand, explaining some inconsistency away with an almost flippant one-line explanation. Throughout I got the feeling that he was 'losing the plot', perhaps that he was trying to finish the book off too quickly and to hell with the consistency.
Having said all this, there are moments of brilliance in this book and the interaction between Will and Lyra is handled very well, indeed it's been a long time since I have read such a heart-wrenching end to a book.
Other reviewers have mentioned the swipes he takes at Christianity and I must say that I don't agree with them. In fact Pullman attacks the narrow-minded unkindness found in a *religious* mentality. Young people reading this book will probably be positively affected by that view whereas they can make up their own mind at some stage about the theological 'heresies' of God not being creator etc. It is a work of fiction after all.
Brilliant though the Dark Materials trilogy is, it needs to remain that - a trilogy. The story has been finished off beautifully and any attempt to further the project would be detrimental to the whole work.
Finally, I'd like to say that if this last book had been of the same quality as the first two we would have on our hands a true classic of English literature, a work to rival or exceed Lord of the Rings. All the same though, a wonderful read and one I will treasure for a long time.
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The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3), 1st edition
The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3), 1st edition by Philip Pullman (Mass Market Paperback - September 9, 2002)
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