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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy successor to "The Golden Compass"
When Dickens' novels were first serialized, anxious crowds gathered at American docks, waiting for each fresh installment from across the ocean. Readers of Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" have found themselves similarly looking across the water for its sequel, and after an eighteen month wait "The Subtle Knife" has finally arrived.
"The...
Published on June 11, 1997

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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something of a let down
After speeding through the Golden Compass, one of the best fantasy books I had read in years at the very least, I could barely wait to start on the sequel. Unfortunately, it did very little to live up to my expectations.

Nearly all of the charms of the first book--a unique and well realized alternate reality, an interesting and masterful reshaping of "real...
Published on September 21, 2007 by nymphaea


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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy successor to "The Golden Compass", June 11, 1997
By A Customer
When Dickens' novels were first serialized, anxious crowds gathered at American docks, waiting for each fresh installment from across the ocean. Readers of Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" have found themselves similarly looking across the water for its sequel, and after an eighteen month wait "The Subtle Knife" has finally arrived.
"The Subtle Knife" is the second installment in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, in which Pullman has created an alternate universe nearly as vivid and credible as our own. Whereas "The Golden Compass" was set in a parallel world in which bears talk and witches fly, the action of its sequel occurs primarily in our own world. The book introduces a new protagonist, Will Perry, who joins the heroine of "The Golden Compass," Lyra Belacqua, in an eschatological quest for the nature of "Dust" -- subatomic particles which correspond to the mysterious dark matter of modern astronomy. Will and Lyra meet in Cittagazze, a frightening world in which spectres suck the souls from adults, and thus the only fear children have is of growing up.
Reviewers of "The Golden Compass" made inevitable comparisons to Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. While it is difficult for any fantasy book to escape the long shadow of Frodo Baggins, the Dark Materials series admirably avoids the painful kitsch that so often mars Tolkien's work; Pullman's characters seldom burst into song or sigh as they contemplate a noble past where men and elves walked tall and... well, one gets the picture. Indeed, what sets Pullman apart from so many fellow fabulists is his respect for restrained, inventive language. For instance, the following passage describes a spell of invisibility: "True invisibility was impossible, of course; this was mental magic, a kind of fiercely held modesty that could make the spell worker not invisible but simply unnoticed."
I resisted the initial temptation to review the book immediately upon completing it; rather, I passed it off to a friend to compare her reaction with mine. We were in agreement on the verdict: "The Subtle Knife" ranks among the best modern books written in any genre. It is that good.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something of a let down, September 21, 2007
By 
After speeding through the Golden Compass, one of the best fantasy books I had read in years at the very least, I could barely wait to start on the sequel. Unfortunately, it did very little to live up to my expectations.

Nearly all of the charms of the first book--a unique and well realized alternate reality, an interesting and masterful reshaping of "real world" institutions into this alternate reality, intriguing technologies--were lost in the sequel. However, the biggest disappointment had to be what I consider the near character assassination of Lyra. Lyra, I thought, was one of the primary strengths of the first book. In the Golden Compass, we had that rarest of all things, a female protagonist in a fantasy novel who isn't some kind of patient saint or super warrior. She was selfish, brave, ungrateful, loyal, resourceful and something of a brat. In short, she felt very much like a real girl who found herself swept up in horrible events far beyond what any 12-year-old child should have to face and, while she had her failures, faced those challenges with resourcefulness and sometimes terrible courage. At the end, we had Lyra, betrayed by her own parents, her dearest friend dead, about to leave behind the sole protector she'd found--but who was facing this unknown new world and a war against her giant of a father because she felt it was right. It was a powerful image.

So I excitedly opened The Subtle Knife only to find Lyra's quest nigh well abandoned. Will is a decent if underdeveloped character, but he's tremendously common. In how many fantasy novels is the chief protagonist a boy with a mysterious father who ends up having a destiny well beyond his expectations? Will as sidekick I could have born. Will as primary hero with Lyra abandoning all self-agency in order to play hand-maiden to the male protagonist I found trite and somewhat insulting. And the one time where Lyra dares to remember her own quest after the Dust she is immediately chastised for not making everything about her new man. And then Will's destiny wasn't even that interesting. Boy with magical bond with weapon discovers he's the center of the universe--it's been done dozens of times before. Lyra's interactions with her daemon and the entire plot of what Dust is was new. And why did Lyra have to become so dumb and horridly insipid? Where was the Lyra who led her group of Oxford children in successful wars against other children back at Oxford? Where was the Lyra who earned the title Silvertongue? Where was her rage at her father and her grief for her friend?

For a series which prides itself at rejecting the dangerous suffocation of ideas by the establishment, it surely does prop up more than a few patriarchal ideas.

There were a few grace notes. I liked Mary tremendously and Lee Scoresby's plot had some of the best and most heartbreaking writing of the series. Just after The Golden Compass I felt Pullman had lost the plot a bit and picked up too many cliched threads that ended up diluting what had been a creative series.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Response to Religous Criticism, January 16, 2000
By A Customer
I snatched up the Subtle Knife from my bookstore the very first day the book was released, eager with anticipation. Almost three years later, at 15, I still have not lost that joyous and excited feeling of delight every time I pick up the book. I originally reviewed the book long ago, but I came back to check what others thought about Philip Pullman's masterpiece. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. Readers seem to be criticizing Pullman for the religious aspects of his works and their apparent "immorality." The fact that these absurd thoughts completely contradict the ideals of the pluralistic society we're supposed to be living in doesn't even bother me at this point. Readers simply fail to realize that the very nature of Pullman's work forces him to deal with these issues! The Dark Materials Trilogy is based on a single passage from Milton's Paradise Lost, which, as you know, deals with Satan's rebellion, original sin and man's fall from grace. And although Milton in his first two books of Paradise Lost portrays Satan as an almost heroic character, no one accuses *him* of blasphemy. In fact, he was a devout Christian, one of the greatest writers of the seventeenth century and his work is commonly upheld to be a great resource to and extension of the Christian faith. Pullman simply takes a few lines from Paradise Lost and explores the concept within them. What if God had indeed, created other worlds that we are not aware of? Pullman, with his immense genius and imagination decides to explore this question. What if there were thousands of worlds like ours, where every possibility of probability occurs? He manages to answer this question in a magnificent and skillful manner. His work needs not be marred by religious censure.
Perhaps most important is the fact that Pullman's various religious viewpoints don't even go against the organized religion established in our world. In Lyra's world, the Church is a completely different entity. For one thing, the Calvinist church has taken over all of Europe. Secondly, the Church there exerts a type of social control that our Church hasn't enjoyed since the 14th or 15th century. Lastly, Lyra's Church is obviously as corrupt and sinful as ours was during the Avignon papacy and before the Counter Reformation. We apparently didn't think it was wrong to go and rebel against the Church and try to cleanse it, so how can we blame anyone in Lyra's world for opposing their Church? And how for one thing do we not know that the Devil himself has corrupted this Church? Pullman never says *our* Church is bad, he only implies that Lyra's is.
The next troubling issue is the whole plot line of the fallen angels' rebellion. Again, Pullman is *forced* to write about this - it is, as mentioned before, what Milton's work was about in the first place. What if Satan has finally decided his army has been built up enough for another battle with God? Or, if he sees Asriel (who, as the reader from Pennsylvania so cleverly mentioned, might be an incarnation of Azreal (Death), who is Satan's son) preparing for a battle, and decides to send his support? There are other issues which critics complain about, but they've already been discussed in previous reviews and this is getting a bit too lengthy already =). At this point in the trilogy, we don't know Asriel's true purpose, we don't know what side Lyra is on, we don't know what is good or evil, in short, we can't judge. So please, from now on, try to see it from the viewpoint that Pullman is writing from, or at least reserve your judgement until the last book is published.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The crash of matter and the wrack of worlds, July 25, 2002
By 
John Schoffstall (Glen Mills, PA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Lyra Belacqua, having passed from her universe into a different one at the end of "The Golden Compass," finds her new world a strange and and dangerous place. She meets Will Parry, a boy from our own world, who is fleeing the scene of a murder, and has stumbled into the same alternate world as Lyra. Back in Lyra's world, her friends Serafina Pekkala the witch queen, and Lee Scoresby the Texan aeronaut seek her, and as do both old and new enemies of great power. Lyra finds that her father, Lord Asriel, has embarked on a project so ambitious, so stunning in its audacity that it challenges the foundations of the universe, and the place of humans in it.
A number of reader reviews on Amazon seem to conclude that the second volume in this series is weaker than the first. I don't agree. This is a rather different book, that takes off in directions readers of its predecessor may not expect, but it's just as fun to read, and is as fully realized a novel. I wonder whether a lot of readers don't fall in love with Lyra in "The Golden Compass", and expect the next book to be all about her as well. It's not. Lyra is a major character, but Pullman has other fish to fry as well. There's also no well-defined quest to rivet the reader's attention until about halfway through. But when the reader finally realizes what the 'quest' is, it will take his breath away.
Pullman draws freely from the some of deepest wells in English literature: Milton's "Paradise Lost", Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell", and Coleridge's "The Ancient Mariner". There are echoes and resonances of these works throughout "The Subtle Knife."
The novel certainly does not fall down because it's too talky: there's a ton of good action, and a lot of hair-raising, can't-put-the-book-down moments. But there are also a lot of mysteries, mysteries that probe deeply and unflinchingly into the purpose of human life on earth, where we came from, where we're going, and that explore and play with the core mythologies of Christian faith. I thought when reading the first novel in this series that although it is usually described as fantasy, it was actually closer to science fiction, and this volume confirms that idea. Pullman's is a rational universe, even when he's talking about God, angels, and Satan's war against Heaven.
The prose, as in The Golden Compass, is perfect. The plot is an intricate clockwork machine. The characters are strongly limned and memorable. By the novel's conclusion Pullman has set himself up an enormous challenge for the final volume in this series. I only hope he can pull it off.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do not buy deluxe edition - poor quality edition, September 11, 2007
If you are thinking of trading in your older version of this book for the so-called 'deluxe' version, save your hard earned money. As noted in other reviews, this publisher is following a trend I have seen more often and why I won't buy hardcovers at full price or at all.
It is printed on cheap paper for the same amount of money a nicer book would sell for. The cloth book marker doesn't make up for the fact that this version of the book is a rip off.
What gets to me is that the industry is trying to pull a fast one on the consumer. If they could lower their prices a little, to reflect their use of disposable materials, that would be more honest on their part.
But I guess that's what's at issue here. Buy with caution, because if you intend for these books to stay in your library a while, you may be disappointed.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far from subtle., February 2, 2001
By 
"jennig" (Santa Barbara, California USA) - See all my reviews
My goodness. I truly loved _The Golden Compass_. I was intrigued and excited by a work of fantasy, depicting the beginnings of a religious battle, in which _both_ sides were flawed. And Lyra -- deceitful, mischievous, wonderful Lyra -- who made her own "truths" so often, seemed set at the end of that book to explore and discover a truth all of her own, one far more complex, but at the same time more personal and therefore more true, than anything her cold, ambitious, dogmatic parents could imagine.
In a terribly disappointing irony, _The Subtle Knife_ cuts away all of the moral complexity and religious questioning that made the first book so gripping, and lays bare a far-from-subtle anti-Christian philosophy that, in it's lack of originality and respect seems to do nothing but emulate the dogmatism of its main villains.
Moreover, the beauty of the intimate connection between Lyra and her daemon, that made the dangers of the first book so heartwrenching, and that added such complexity to her character by giving us a sense of her own inner doubts and disagreements, as well as her longing for love and acceptance, is here pared down to a bit of timely shape-shifting and a few lines of unrevealing dialogue. It's like the souls of the main characters really have been cut away, and in their place we have cardboard subjects spouting trite propaganda instead of the really soul-stirring questions we got in book 1.
In this book, there are none of the moments of fierce beauty, none of the stabbing pangs of doubt and questioning, that made the first book so emotionally stimulating. The whole thing seems calculated and cold. Even a terrible (and deliciously morally ambivalent) act committed by one of the main characters seems a matter for little more than an emotional pause and a few subsequent reminders. The character seems unchanged by his experiences. Untouched. His soul does not speak to us here.
In the end, _The Subtle Knife_ is simply disturbing. It doesn't disturb in that intellectually stimulating way that great, subversive literature can. It is subversive, but only in the shallowest of ways -- it attacks what many hold to be true and good. But it doesn't do it in a way that brings up new and interesting questions, or really challenges believers to re-think. It just batters its head against a strawman of semi-historical, pseudo-theological fiction. Taken together, the two books have the feel of a greatly crafted deceit, as what seemed so complex and profound in the beginning slowly falls away to reveal a simple matter of anti-religious sour grapes.
I give the books credit for their entertainment value, and will return again and again to _The Golden Compass_, if only to imagine what the series could have become. But this book does for Atheism what books like _Left Behind_ do for Christianity -- they give believers a pat on the back, dissenters a headache, and lovers of literature a sigh of dissappointment. For a book that tackles such big issues, one would expect far more grace, far more thought, and far more subtlety.
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, incisive fantasy, January 25, 2004
This second volume in Pullman's epic trilogy is closer in tone to JRR Tolkien than JK Rowling, but religion and philosophy take center stage early on. This battle of Good versus Evil has Pullman update Milton and Blake by questioning a LOT of assumptions.
With the Catholic Church scandal revealing painful new developments every day, Pullman's work becomes ever more timely. Are institutions created to teach morality capable of staying moral? Can moral authorities resist authoritarianism? Which is more important, the integrity of the institution or protecting our most vulnerable citizens? All these issues come to fore, and in _The Subtle Knife_, the question of whether religion elevates or crushes the soul is never far from one's mind.
The previous novel introduced Lyra Silvertongue, who lived in an alternate Oxford (UK) where everyone has a animal-daemon who stays close at hand. This volume introduces Will Parry, from our own Oxford, dealing with his incompetent mother and the disappearance of his explorer father. Will travels to a dangerous Mediterranean world where soul-sucking wraiths only kill adults, meets Lyra, and the two join forces. When Will discovers the Subtle Knife's power to cut portals between worlds, he and Lyra learn this is not only a method of escape, but an unstable force that could destroy many worlds.
Pullman clearly detests the evil done in the name of religion. He is not necessarily anti-Catholic or anti-Christian but anti-authoritarian. Anyone who has studied European history will recognize the characterization of a corrupt and overly powerful Church (denomination never specified). Lyra and Will are bringing The Enlightenment to several worlds who are as politically forward as pre-Reformation Europe, and must defeat powerful forces who have no interest in yielding. The book and its companion volumes work both as a springboard to the Big Questions and as an allegory for growing up and finding one's own way.
Literate, informed, evocative, and conceptually brilliant, this supposed Young Adult release will captivate adults as well.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy continuation (but what is Dust???), December 13, 2000
By 
Edward Aycock (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is actually a continuation and not a sequel, and it's a darn good one at that. When we last left Lyra, she was entering a new world thanks to her father, Lord Asriel. Now... we start the story with Will, who is an inhabitant of our Earth. To say too much about the plot of this story would give too many things away. But needless to say, this is very much its own story. Some familiar characters from the first book do not appear, other smaller characters are given much more depth. We also get the excitement of new dangers and a breathtaking final page that is horifying, yet compelling.
I think what Pullman does best in these books is to heighten the sense of danger and terror without resorting to a large amount of bloodletting. The terror is so palpable, that just the idea of it is enough (such as the extremely unsettling scene when a group of fleeing adults are attacked by a bunch of wraithlike creatures who steal their souls.) It's a nice change of pace from this world of violent movies. Pullman shows us horror and death, yet does it in such a masterful way that we feel all of the pain and anguish and see very little of the gore.
I am stumped as to which way the series will go from here. The Subtle Knife is indeed a continuation of The Golden Compass, and I wouldn't suggest reading this out of order, but Pullman does what very few writers dare: he creates an entirely new world, and new story directions that take the reader to even higher plateaus. Plus, he keeps us guessing, and that is the most fun of all.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing follow-up, February 22, 2001
By A Customer
Although I am not typically a reader of fantasies, I loved The Golden Compass, and was quite anxious to read its sequel. However, although The Subtle Knife was somewhat interesting read, its plot and characters absolutely paled in comparison with The Golden Compass.
This sequel focuses on the play between several parallel, yet different, worlds. The exploration of these worlds was interesting ideed, and some of the plot twists were creative. However, it seemed much more contrived than The Golden Compass.
The biggest disappointment was Lyra. The focus shifted from her to her new friend. Suddenly Lyra went from being the confident, brave, mature, interesting girl in Golden Compass to a little girl with not much common sense or confidence. Since she was the most interesting part of Golden Compass, this change was quite sad to see, especially since the other kid, on whom the focus now is, is not nearly so charismatic or interesting.
Despite my disappointment, The Subtle Kife was still an interesting exploration of the various worlds, as well as a commentary on how too much religion, science, and just plain messing with the way the world works can change things in terrible ways.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magic Continues, November 3, 2000
By 
Brett Benner (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
In the debate people have over sequels versus originals, I'd have to chalk one up for the sequel camp. Having just read "The Golden Compass", I wouldn't of believed Philip Pullman could top himself, but boy does he ever. The second installment of the "Dark Materials" trilogy begins with the introduction of Will Parry. Twelve years old, smart, and fiercely protective of his Mother, in self defense he commits a murder.Consequently, this sends him on a wild chase that at its' end finds him face to face with our heroine, Lyra. What happens then, and how their individual quests are related through possibly hundreds of worlds is the heart of part two.
I loved this book. I loved the addition of Will, and the beautiful friendship he and Lyra develop. I thought the action never let up for a second, and had no idea where it was headed. I also loved the focus moving from just Lyra, as it was in the first book, to ample time with all the other various characters. It made them more tangible, more easy to connect with.
The only thing that's misleading about the book is its' reading level.The cover art makes you think you're about to read something lightweight and sugary. A fairy tale to share with the kids. It's not! I would love to give these to my nephew who loves the Harry Potter books, but don't know if he'd grasp all the concepts Pullman is weaving. He's constantly making you question who's bad and who's good. And maybe that's his intention, and it will all be clear in the final book. I can't wait. Cause this one ended as a true cliff hanger.
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