Philip Pullman

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman is the second book in his Dark Materials series. Picking up where The Golden Compass (#1) left off, this book introduces us to a new protagonist, the young boy, Will. The protagonist of Book I, Lyra, recedes into the background as we follow Will on his adventure to locate his father. When Will and Lyra finally meet up and coordinate their activities, Lyra assumes the role of a support figure, following Will, obeying his orders, and nursing his wound.

The book is populated with witches, angels, specters who feed on adults, children running amok, adults with their demons, adults without their demons, the mysterious Dust, alternative worlds that run parallel to each other, armies preparing for a final, all-out war, and a knife that can cut between worlds.

This has the feeling of a middle book—a “filler” passage between Book I and the final book in the series. There are a lot of loose ends and questions that need to be answered at the end of Book II. Threading its way throughout the narrative is religious commentary—primarily critiques of organized religion, Catholicism, and the concept of original sin—as well as splashes of physics and anthropology. The narrative felt rushed and choppy, the events hurried, the focus scattered, and the dialogue stilted. The characters dash from one place to the next, from one event to the next, neither of which is sufficiently developed. And it was disappointing to see the plucky Lyra, full of spunk and audacity in Book I, be relegated to Will’s obedient side-kick in Book II.

All of this begs the question, where is Pullman going with this? Presumably, we will get the answers in Book III.

Recommended with reservations.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review