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on July 4, 2010
While the plot of the Golden Compass is enthralling and a good read, the Subtle Knife expands upon it and unique ideas more than I would have imagined. I found myself much more taken in by the ideas Pullman expanded on - the link between science and fantasy and religion was a big appeal for me. This is a book (and series) I find myself telling everyone to read, because I was so taken by just how unique the storyline is. You won't be disappointed reading this.

The Golden Compass is longer and not as enthralling, but it is a vital set up to this and the next book (The Amber Spyglass), and worth reading so you can continue on with the series.
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on May 1, 2004
The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman is an excellent book with many exciting twists and turns. Unlike some fantasy books, it wasn't predictable or unbelievable. I could easily relate to the two main characters, Lyra and Will, and I was constantly wondering what would happen next. Will and Lyra are just two ordinary children with lives very similar to my own. Lyra is a small, curious, adventurous young orphan full of energy and not afraid to stand up for herself. Will is a shy young boy caring for his ailing mother. They are unlikely heroes and that's one of the reasons this book was so wonderful.
The way Pullman introduces these characters made me feel like I knew them personally and the way he describes the events in the story made me feel like I was there watching them happen. There wasn't a boring moment in the whole book. There was constant action, excitement and adventure. Throughout the book Will and Lyra are exploring other worlds similar to ours but with some differences, using a knife to cut through into the different worlds. Unlike in some fantasy books, these places are so creative and described so well that it was easy for me to picture them clearly in my mind.
Since it is the second book in a trilogy, The Subtle Knife could have left off with an unsatisfying ending like many sequels do. This book, however, did not. It had a wonderful ending that left me wanting to read the third book, The Amber Spyglass even more. It explained enough to be able to start reading it without reading the first book, but not enough to get boring for someone who had. The characters were easy to relate to, the plot was exciting, and everything was described with creativity and attention to details. All in all, this was a wonderful book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a book that keeps them guessing until the very end.
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on April 28, 2004
(Four and a half stars)
The first book took place in Lyra Belacqua's world and the second book takes place in a new world between hers and the one we know that is infested by Specters, a ghostly personage that feasts on those who have passed puberty.
This book introduces a new character, Will Parry, who is thrown into this series when he comes across a doorway between our world and this new world. Inside he befriends Lyra and finds a powerful knife which can be used to move between worlds.
Together, Will and Lyra join together to pull each other through their challenges as Lyra learns more of her great destiny and improves her understanding of dust and the origins and usage of the alethiometer.
The action isn't as strong as the first book, but this is still a wonderful story. If you've read and enjoyed the first book I would highly suggest picking up this one and continuing from the first book's cliffhanger. A lot of questions are answered in this book and a few more questions are introduced as well. It all makes for a fantastic finish in the third book.
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on April 16, 2004
The Subtle Knife, the second book to Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials Triology, is a wonderful story about two young children in a strange and unknown world. The book takes off when Will, a young boy from our world finds a portal into a strange new world. However, this world is very different than ours. Children are running around town with no parents and strange shape-shifting animals that seem to follow them wherever they go. Soon he meets a young girl named Lyra who teaches him about other worlds. Then Will becomes the bearer of the Subtle Knife. This strange knife opens all kinds of different openings into different worlds in which Lyra and Will must search to bring their journeys to an end. The children, each looking for something different set off together in hopes they can help one another. This book is filled with great description, and is a must read for people of all ages. The Subtle Knife is filled with twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the third book.
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on March 25, 2004
I have been collecting and treasuring children's books since the moment I realized I wasn't a child anymore, so I've been around the block with authors that target a young adult audience. I stumbled across The Golden Compass when a friend of a friend pushed it at me one day saying "You really and truly will not be able to put it down." She was right.

Pullman will probably appeal to a young audience because of the spirit of adventure and richness of characters, but I believe that adults will get the most out of these books. The theory behind his ideas are amazing, and his villains are terrifying in their similarities to real-life human traits. Mrs. Coulter is probably one of the most interesting characters ever created and could have fit in well in Roald Dahl's The Witches. Her cunning, changeability, charm, and ability to turn on her own daughter make her kind of evil one we don't usually see.

The introduction of Will and "our" Oxford make this book probably the most interesting, albeit shortest, in the trilogy. The interplay between Will and Lyra is fascinating and allows us to see our heroine from another perspective. Their personalities complement each other so well, you'll be so engrossed by their cooperative endeavors that you'll forget they're not real people in your life.

After having read so many books for youngsters, both classic and contemporary, it's easy to sort the lasting from the flashes in the pan. The His Dark Materials trilogy reads like Dahl, Barrie, and C.S. Lewis (although it certainly doesn't emphasize fun and subtle humor the way the former two tended to do) in that it is never cheesy, never condescending, and chock full of beautiful, well thought-out details. It's not Harry Potter and it doesn't have to be. Both are completely enjoyable in different ways.

One important note on the edition you buy: You will have a better reading experience with the Knopf edition (preferably hardback). This is especially true with The Amber Spyglass, the third book in the trilogy.
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on March 17, 2004
The point of departure for this truly creative fantasy/parallel worlds trilogy is an inversion of Milton's Paradise Lost. In the latter, Milton presented a poetic account and justification of the divine plan for the Universe. In Pullman's books, the Miltonic version is a distorted view of real events. In the Universe created by Pullman, a powerful angelic force, the Authority, claimed power over the previously created Universe and has been abusing this power for millennia to keep humanity (and other sentient species) in a form of bondage. This bondage ramifies throughout an virtually infinite number of parallel worlds. This trilogy describes a revolt against the Authority and its overthrow. The principle characters are 2 children, one from our world and one from a closely related parallel world with mixed features of the 20th century and Victorian Europe. The initial plot strand concerns efforts to understand a mysterious component of the Universe called Dust or Dark Energy. The following complicated plot is essentially a coming of age story as the two children encounter many exotic features of their and related worlds. The plot incorporates elements of Paradise Lost and the Garden of Eden myth.
The quality of writing in these books is superb. A host of interesting characters and high quality prose. Pullman's imagination is remarkable. He has essentially developed a whole new mythology incorporating elements of modern science, religious allegory, and modern history. Perhaps the only flaw is that he may have packed too much into the final and concluding book of the trilogy, which is an interesting compound of Armageddon, Ragnorak, and the Garden of Eden story.
These books have produced some controversy as some feel that they are anti-religious, even specifically anti-Christian. Pullman has denied this interpretation and suggested that the books are an allegorical attack on all forms of dogmatism and authoritarianism. This disclaimer seems disingenuous. One thing that Pullman very clearly attacks is the idea that there is a separate soul distinct from the body. An important and at times poetically presented component of these books is the idea that humans are an intrinsic, not separate component, of the natural world. Pullman actually presents a pantheistic view of the world with consciousness an immanent and emergent part of the natural world and humans (and other sentients) as particular extensions of this aspect of the natural world. He also allegorically criticizes human attempts to overwhelmingly control the natural world. Whatever he states, these views are a trenchant criticism of any world view resting on the idea of separate and eternal souls.
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on February 6, 2004
*sigh* It's just so darn good. So well written. So unaccountably flawless that you want to take Philip Pullman by the lapels and demand that he show you how he did it.
In this second book of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, Pullman deftly continues the story of Lyra Belacqua and her adventures. Added to the mix is young Will Parry. A boy from our world, he and Lyra pair up to find his father. Along the way they find new enemies (like the soul-sucking Specters) and allies (angels, as luck would have it).
What makes Pullman so adept is his readiness to shift between a myriad of different worlds with relative ease. This author can have five different plots going on and the reader not only is able to keep track of them all, but also feels a great obligation to read every single one. The creation of the Specters in this book is a particularly interesting one. Similar, in some ways, to the Dementors of the Harry Potter stories, these creatures leave the body alive and wasted after doing their dirty work.
But best of all is Mr. Pullman's ability to make you really care about what is happening. I've rarely felt so invested in the well-being of my protagonists. Lyra is smart and clever without becoming precocious. Will is serious and strong without bowling you over with his manliness. The result is a classic book that will be well regarded for years to come.
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on 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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on January 4, 2004
If "The Golden Compass" was a more or less children's book that introduced the reader to Lyra and her world, "The Subtle Knife" is much more than that.
One of the first things I said was "Ahhh" with a feeling of admiration, when I realized that Pullman included our world, daemonless and Oblation Boardless in the story. While in the "Golden Compass", one might think that the world Lyra is in is just a fantasy replica of our world, in the "Subtle Knife" one realizes what it's really like.
Throughout the whole story, Pullman weaves the complex web of the story. The plot of "The Golden Compass" was more or less straightforward and simple, but "The Subtle Knife" introduces new ideas and many of them, too. He turns a simple story into a complex epic, where the problems of all the worlds intervine and another major problem of all the worlds put together arises - the problem of Dust.
And while Pullman explains some of the concepts that the reader could only believe in before, he introduces so many more, unanswered and mysterious that you get trapped in the web that he is weaving.
By the end of the story, it is just impossible to resist to get the next book. It would be the same torment as the torment of being pulled away from your daemon. The Pullman-spider has caught you.
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on November 17, 2003
The book I read is called The Subtle Knife, 2nd book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman. In this book, Lyra Belaqua goes through the aurora to another world, and sets off with her newfound friend, Will, on a journey through many worlds, as her father, Lord Asriel prepares to war upon the Authority, Himself.
This book is pretty much adventure/science fiction, although it strays away from that form sometimes. And this science fiction isn't filled with gadgets and science, but there is a strange substance called dust that everyone wants to know more about. This book reminds me of The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien. In the first Lord of the Rings book, the characters are together, but in the second, having split up, they are all in different locations, allowing for different subplots that tie into the storyline. That happens in this book as well. I believe if you like the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, (I certainly did) then you'll love this one. I think it is best if you read the 1st and second without a break, but wait a day or so for the 3rd.
I would not recommend this book to younger children as it can be confusing, disturbing, deep, and have hard words. I would recommend this book to anyone from an older child to an 80 year old man. It is very compelling, and Pullman is a wonderful storyteller. He draws you into his story, and when it ends, you still can't get out of it for the rest of the day.
This book is marvelous. I have been reading it over and over even when I am finished. The chapters are reasonable lengths, and the whole book is three-hundred and twenty-six pages. Phillip Pullman is my new favorite author.
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