Reviews for Subtle Knife


The Book Report Reviews 1998 January-February
This sequel to the fantasy The Golden Compass continues the saga of Lyra, who at the close of Compass entered a new world following after her father (Lord Asriel) and seeking the answer to what the particles "Dust" are. Introduced in this installment of the planned trilogy is Will Parry, who joins Lyra in this new world, having left a world like ours. Will has escaped after accidentally killing a man who was threatening him and his mother. He is trying to find his father who went on an expedition to the Arctic when Will was young and never returned. (We learn later that Will's father moved into Lyra's world and became a shaman called Grumman.) Throughout the novel, characters move in and out of these three parallel worlds. It is in the new world, however, that the important action develops. In Cittagazze of the new world, Will and Lyra learn that Specters consume the souls of adults leaving children as the only inhabitants. It is also here that we learn of an impending battle of monumental proportions, which will involve powerful angels who are winging their way north to Lord Asriel. Will then becomes the caretaker of the "subtle knife," a mysterious weapon that can slice through anything. In the process of getting it he loses two fingers and almost his life. Together, under the protection of witches from Lyra's world and pursued by her mother, the evil Mrs. Coulter, the children embark on a dangerous journey to learn what part they will play in the epic battle. In the end, Lyra has disappeared and Will, after having finally found his dying father Grumman, is being taken by two angels to Lord Asriel. Thus the stage is set for the final book in the trilogy. The complexity of plot combined with the moral questions Pullman addresses make this fantasy a rich and multileveled experience. It is an intricate but highly satisfying adventure with mysterious, intriguing characters. The conclusion will certainly make this a classic trilogy. Highly Recommended. Rosemary Knapp, Library Media Specialist, Camas (Washington) High School © 1998 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 July 1997
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 7^-12. The epic adventure continues as the plot thickens in the second riveting book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, which began with the much heralded The Golden Compass, Booklist's Top of the List in youth fiction for 1996. This time, the story begins in our world with Will, a boy who escapes his pursuers by going through a window into another world, a world plagued by soul-sucking specters, where he encounters Lyra and her demon, Pantalaimon. The two youngsters join forces, moving between worlds searching for the mysterious phenomenon called Dust and for Will's long-lost father. By losing two fingers in a battle with a madman, Will becomes a warrior and the bearer of the subtle knife, a weapon that, like Lyra's truth-telling alethiometer, is a talisman as well, and, like Lyra, Will proves to be a pivotal figure in the looming battle for the universe. Often the middle book in a trilogy is the weakest; such is not the case here despite some incidences of awkward explanations inserted as asides or as part of the narrative. It's the character development as well as the relentless pace on several fronts--that of Will, Lyra, the witches, Will's father, and others--and a couple of gruesome incidents that make this a resoundingly successful sequel. The cliff-hanger of an ending will leave readers desperate for the next installment. ((Reviewed July 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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BookPage Reviews 1997 September
What might be right beside us that we can't see or feel? Do ghosts and witches really exist, but just in some other world? Could there be alternative universes similar to our own? In "The Subtle Knife," Philip Pullman creates a world that is enough like our own to make us wonder. He weaves a tale full of mystery and magic, covering three worlds - alternative universes - with windows from one to the other.The main character is Will, a boy who is very much alone in his world. His father disappeared on an expedition to Alaska when Will was a baby, and his mother is hounded by enemies both seen and unseen. Will can't do anything about the invisible threat to her, but he can keep the two men who are badgering her from getting the secret information his father sent home in letters. Will finds a window to another world and knows he'll be safe there from the pursuing men.In this new world where adults are attacked by specters only they can see, Will meets Lyra, the main character from "The Golden Compass," the first book in the series. She is still intent on her own quest: a search for the elusive element she calls dust. The children work together, each helping the other toward their goals. Along the way they fight both adults and children, jump between the worlds and unknowingly stumble into the middle of preparations for the biggest battle ever fought in human history, where civilization will begin again. But not even Will can imagine how closely linked all these events are with his destiny to continue his father's dream.Pullman writes a story filled with witches (black capes and broomsticks included), soul-sucking specters, angels and manipulative villains. His characters are convincing - vulnerable, yet stronger than they think. The idea that human history can begin again is intriguing, as is the idea that many worlds occupy the same space and that it is possible to move among them, though most of the time we know nothing of their existence. This echoes Thornton Wilder's description in "The Eighth Day" that time is "a vast landscape and it only the eye of the beholder that moves.""The Subtle Knife" is a complicated book. Many disparate events take place that only slowly begin to converge toward the end, but dedicated young readers, willing to plow through will be richly rewarded. It is helpful to begin with "The Golden Compass," as Pullman occasionally refers to events from the past and most of his characters were introduced in the first book. His plot snowballs, building density and momentum, and leaving the reader eager for the third book when all will be revealed and when we can view the landscape of all his worlds with a clearer eye.Reviewed by Elizabeth Hanley. Copyright 1999 BookPage Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 1998
In this second book of the trilogy (following [cf2]The Golden Compass[cf1]), the adventures of Lyra Belacqua continue, with the introduction of young Will Parry as a major protagonist. Although this volume is very much a book between the first and third, each of the players in this vast game is clear and distinct, and there is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1997 #5
In this second book of the trilogy His Dark Materials, following The Golden Compass, the adventures of Lyra Belacqua continue, with the introduc-tion of young Will Parry as a major protagonist. Will comes from Oxford in our world; he is anxious to find his long-lost explorer father and struggles to protect his mother and some valuable papers from sinister men in black. He accidentally kills one and escapes through a window into a city, Ci'gazze, in a middle world where he joins up with Lyra. The two become friends and allies against a bewildering conglomeration of enemies. They are pursued for many reasons: they have both been prophesied to play leading parts in impending struggles of immense proportions; Will has become the owner of a knife of great powers, the subtle knife; and Lyra possesses the alethiometer-the golden compass-which can foretell the future and direct Lyra and Will to their unknown destinies. Many characters from The Golden Compass reappear: Mrs. Coulter continues her evil plotting; in a moving episode, Lee Scoresby, the Texas aero-naut, is killed defending a lost hope to protect Lyra; Serafina Pekkala and her witches enter this middle world to lend aid to Lyra and Will. The intricacy of the plot is staggering; it is perhaps a retelling of Paradise Lost-there are hints and por-tents that Lord Asriel, Lyra's father, is preparing to restage the revolt of the angels against God and that Lyra is destined to be the new Eve. Although this volume is very much a book between the first and third-and almost incomprehensible without having read The Golden Compass-each of the players in this vast game is clear and distinct, and there is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating. Pullman offered an exceptional romantic fantasy in The Golden Compass, but The Subtle Knife adds a mythic dimension that inevitably demands even greater things from the finale. a.a.f. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1997 June #5
More than fulfilling the promise of The Golden Compass, this second volume in the His Dark Materials trilogy starts off at a heart-thumping pace and never slows down. On the run after inadvertently killing one of the sinister men who have been stalking his emotionally disturbed mother, Will, 12, hitchhikes to Oxford to seek information about his father, an explorer who vanished in the Arctic over a decade ago. As Will searches for a place to sleep, he stumbles upon Cittàgazze a deserted city in another world accessible via a sort of magic gateway located (in one of the story's many witty mixes of the banal and the unearthly) near an ordinary traffic circle. Crossing into this peculiar place, Will encounters Lyra (heroine of the previous book), who has left her own world to find out what she can about the mysterious substance called Dust. Will and Lyra (and Lyra's daemon) join forces and travel between worlds, performing a mind-boggling multidimensional burglary, uncovering the ugly secrets of Cittàgazze and gaining hold of an ancient and powerful weapon (the "subtle knife" of the title). Adding to the suspense are subplots involving Lyra's former companion, the Texan balloonist Lee Scoresby; the evil but beautiful Mrs. Coulter; the fierce Northern witch clans; and the mysterious Dr. Stanislaus Grumman. As in Golden Compass, the Arctic settings prove a strikingly original fantasy terrain. And where the first book hinted at a defective cosmology, this work develops that theme in terms of Judeo-Christian theology. Squeamish readers should beware: the narrative touches on such grisly topics as trepanning and genital mutilation. Nevertheless, the grandly exuberant storytelling is sure to enthrall. Ages 10-up. (July) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1997 October
A direct continuation of the epic fantasy begun in The Golden Compass (Knopf, 1996). Will Parry must find his father, who disappeared while exploring the far North. Mysterious strangers are hounding his mother for information about him. After Will accidentally kills one of them, he runs away, right through a window into another world. There he meets Lyra Silvertongue and her daemon, Pantalaimon, as well as travelers from yet another world. Lyra and her truth-telling alethiometer are soon enlisted in Will's quest, even as Lyra continues to seek the true nature of the mysterious Dust that is causing upheavals in her world. A desperate battle with inhabitants of the intermediate world brings Will the subtle knife, a magical totem of his own, which will protect Will and Lyra while bringing them closer to the end of this part of their quest. The action takes place in Will's world (which is also our own), as well as on Lyra's and the intermediate world. As in the first book, the stakes are high and the action is rapid and occasionally violent. The philosophical nature of the quest becomes clearer as various characters explain the possible relationships among Dust, the bridges between worlds, angels, supreme beings, and cosmic forces. This may be treading on the essential nature of the supreme being is not necessarily positive but high-fantasy enthusiasts will find much to follow and reflect on here. The Subtle Knife ends with even more of a cliff-hanger than The Golden Compass, and fans will eagerly Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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VOYA Reviews 1998 June
In The Golden Compass, Pullman gave us a breathtakingly rich vision of a world shades removed from and more mystical than ours, infused with magic and informed by reason, where everyone has a personal daemon in animal form that is the perfectcomplement of their personality, and to which they are bound with their whole soul. We met Lyra, the impudent, shrewd daughter of the powerful scholar, Lord Asriel. Left to her own wild devices under the benevolent care of elderly professors, shefinds her joy running wild with the Oxford street children. When Lyra foils an attempt to assassinate her dangerous father, events are set in motion that destroy her innocent childhood. A photograph of an alternate world, rumors of mysterious Dust, and the increasing disappearances of children all serve tomove Lyra down the path of a terrible destiny. With Lord Asriel imprisoned, the glamorous Mrs. Coulter and her menacing daemon come to take Lyra from her home. Lyra receives a curious instrument an alethiometer which always tells the truth, if one isable to discern the layered meanings of its pictograms. Frightened when she discovers Mrs. Coulter is not only her mother, but also the leader of the Oblation board those behind the abductions, performing unspeakable experiments, severing childrenfrom their daemons Lyra escapes, determined to rescue her father and a missing friend. She begins a journey to the far North, making strange allies along the way, from the King of the Gyptians to Iorek Byrnison, leader of the great white armoredbears. The conclusion is aching, haunting, and epically beautiful. In The Subtle Knife, Pullman continues Lyra's story, as tensions escalate. Will, a boy from a parallel Oxford, is on a quest to find his own father, who had vanished on a Northern expedition. Fleeing after killing one of the mysterious men whoquestion his mother, Will finds a hole from his modern England into the world of Cittigazze, where adults are prey to soul-eating Spectres, and where people's daemons are on the outsides. There, he meets Lyra, out to revenge the death of her friendand find out more about the elusive Dust. The two join forces and form an uneasy, fierce friendship. Victor in a bloody fight, Will learns that he is destined to be the bearer of the subtle knife, a blade able to cut holes into other worlds. As theskies of Cittigazze fill with the massive movements of angels heading to join Lord Asriel in his epic battle against the Authority, and the evil Mrs. Coulter gets nearer and nearer to Lyra, Will and Lyra are pulled into a growing maelstrom of greatstruggles and betrayals. These first two volumes of His Dark Materials trilogy are, simply, magnificent. Pullman has the power of a master fantasist. He imbues an age-old classical struggle with a new mythic vision, the depth and realization of which are staggering. Hisstyle is tight, compelling, and nearly flawless. Characters quickly become friends, so layered and immediate are they, inspiring the reader to tears of loss or wonder. These two titles stand in equal company with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S.Lewis. Jennifer Fakolt. [Editor's Note: Slight comfort for readers dying for the sequel during a speech presented at the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Detroit in November 1997, Pullman forecast the release of his trilogy'sconcluding volume in 1998. As of this late March writing, his Knopf publicist reports that he has not yet completed it.] Copyright 1998 Voya Reviews

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