Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Review: The Subtle Knife

BEFORE you read The Subtle Knife, the second volume in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, please re-read the first couple books of Paradise Lost, Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and perhaps Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner. Now you're ready.

Lyra Belacqua, having passed from her universe into a new one at the end of The Golden Compass, finds herself in a new and dangerous world. She meets Will Parry, a boy from our 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.

Both my LJ friends and the 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.

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.

Philip Pulliam
New York, New York, 1997
ISBN: 0345413369

meaning: winter
冬季 == touki == winter season
冬空 == fuyuzora == winter sky
Origin obscure. The bottom radical is the radical form of 'ice' (氷). Henshall often recommends remembering the top radical as 'crossed legs', and as a mnemonic:  'Sitting cross-legged on winter ice.'


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