Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, #2) - Book Review

4.5/5 Stars

In the mysterious Torre degli Angeli lurks Cittagazze's most important secret

- an object which people from many worlds would kill to possess...

Edition: Paperback
Pages: 341
Chapters: 15
Publisher: Scholastic

Book Links: Goodreads
                      Author's Website



Normally I try to avoid any spoilers and keep my opinion specific but general, if that makes the least bit of sense. But sometimes there comes a story that just cannot be contained or condensed; a story that has your synapses firing and blood pumping.

The Subtle Knife is one such story.

Pullman's children's/young adult/adult tale continues in the second instalment to His Dark Materials trilogy, and yes, I listed all age ranges because the story pretty much caters to all. It's a coming-of-age bonanza set in fantasy worlds with an epic plot that doesn't fail to consume. It has some serious themes and recurring messages that unflinchingly wage war on religious doctrine and fanatical theology.

In short, The Subtle Knife betters what starts in Northern Lights and provides a thought-provoking experience that's not easily shaken.


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

Plot - 4.5/5 Stars

Oh, God, where to start...

The Subtle Knife thrusts the reader into a fantastical story that begins with murder and travels to parallel universes. Set in similar yet supernaturally different environments, there's no denying the book captures the mind of any adventurous soul no matter their age. Mysteries and their progressions are solid, enticing us forward as we perform mental acrobatics in search of answers.

To describe the novel as a thought-provoking one doesn't quite do it justice. Northern Lights gives a distinct anti-religious feel, preferring to highlight the individual, their inner-self, and their experiences over mystical obligations and passivity to an all-seeing deity. But, many reviewers I've read have noted the opposite: That the themes within the series can be interpreted as pro-religion, in a sense.

I disagree, of course. Pullman's intent, while dense in places, is quite clear. 'Dust', the series' metaphor for knowledge and experience, is the very thing the Church wishes to destroy, while Lyra, our protagonist, fights to protect it. It doesn't waver in its scathing opinion of religious doctrine, specifically its inability to progress or adapt past its own theories.

The Subtle Knife goes even further, though. We finally learn that a cosmic battle is about to be waged between two great forces that, for the purposes of the story, have been inverted. God, the bad guy, on one side, while renegade angels are on the other. The former wishes to restrict and control; the latter to free and teach.

It's not something I feel I can fully explain, because as an experience it has to be, well, experienced.

On a much simpler side, The Subtle Knife is an action-packed, adventure-heavy story that flirts with the fantastic and thrills with its twists.

Plus, that ending eclipses the anticlimax given in Northern Lights.

Pace - 4/5 Stars

A good, strong flow works the story's mysteries with very little useless information. Pullman definitely likes to tease the reader, and it succeeds in making them ravenous for more.

Characters - 4/5 Stars

Lyra returns and is joined by Will, a twelve-year-old boy who originates in a world almost identical to ours and is stuck in the middle of a conspiracy involving his father. If you can get past the fact that Lyra has to share the stage (we love Lyra), the two make a tantalising team. Lyra's personality lingers between world-weary seriousness and childish abandon, while Will's leans heavily on the former. He tempers Lyra's more impulsive attitude with wisdom and experience, and their chemistry, the platonic kind, is wonderful to watch.

To be honest, The Subtle Knife doesn't disappoint with its cast of misfits that delight the imagination.

Writing - 4.5/5 Stars

While suitable for all age ranges, readers should be warned that the writing does gear itself just that little bit more toward children. 

Aside from that, Pullman creates some vivid visuals, and the worlds, despite their many similarities, come across as tangible and distinct.

Plus, the themes expertly woven throughout make for a compelling read.

Overall - 4.5/5 Stars

Bigger and better than its predecessor, The Subtle Knife continues Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy with aplomb as it refuses to fall victim to the nasty disappointment a lot of sequels die of.

There, that's not too spoilery, is it?

Previous Instalment: Northern Lights

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