Review: The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2)

SCHOLASTIC, 1998/1996

From Goodreads:

Will is twelve years old and he’s just killed a man. Now he’s on his own, on the run, determined to discover the truth about his father disappearance.

Then Will steps through a window in the air into another world, and finds himself with a companion – a strange, savage little girl called Lyra. Like Will, she has a mission which she intends to carry out at all costs.

But the world of Cittàgazze is a strange and unsettling place. Deadly, soul-eating Spectres stalk in its streets, while high above, the wingbeats of distant angels sound against the sky. And in the mysterious Torre degli Angeli lurks Cittàgazze’s most important secret – an object which people from many worlds would kill to posses.

Having read The Northern Lights (or Golden Compass, as it is known in the US) in September, I was carefully excited to start the second book in the His Dark Materials series. The series was voted third on the BBC’s The Big Read list, but personally I wasn’t completely enthralled by the first book. The story started really slowly and I wasn’t a big fan of Lyra, the main character. But as the book set sail, I started to get more into the story and the ending was such as surprise that taking the entire book into consideration, I gave it 4 stars.

The Subtle Knife starts with Will, a 12-year-old boy who brings her mother to an old piano teacher so that she will be safe. For years, Will has been protecting his mother and in the beginning of the book, accidentally kills a spy. He runs away, stumbles into a new world and meets Lyra. I almost instantly loved Will. In the first book, one of my main problems was that I didn’t like Lyra and thought her at times very childish. However, Will is more mature for his age and through him I eventually also started to like Lyra.

The book drew me in and as the plot thickened, I could not stop reading. Again, the plot twists at the end of the book took me by surprise. Similar to the first book, the ending was such that I longed to start reading the next one immediately. The side characters in the series definitely make it more interesting. It was fascinating to see how the point of view shifted from one person to another, giving glimpses of their views. Also, I did very much enjoy the discussion on religion and power. The theme is very heavy, but Pullman has managed to write it into a more digestible form. In fact, I did read a review that suggested that Philip Pullman had actually re-written Milton’s Paradise Lost – for children!

This seems true because reading the series, I keep forgetting that it was written for children. The plot is not an easy one and I can see that there are scenes that would be challenging for a child reader. Had I read this much younger, it might have had a huge impact on my way of seeing the world. However, that is not to say that the book doesn’t still make me think or challenge me. The Subtle Knife improved the series in my eyes and raised the expectations for the final book, The Amber Spyglass.


It does not make sense. It cannot exist. It’s impossible, and if it isn’t impossible, it’s irrelevant, and if it isn’t either of those things, it’s embarrassing.”

My review of The Northern Lights (#1) AND The Amber Spyglass (#3).


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