Let me start by complimenting what little I enjoyed about this book. Pullman's prose, for the most part, is fantastic--no surpr**spoiler alert** Well.
Let me start by complimenting what little I enjoyed about this book. Pullman's prose, for the most part, is fantastic--no surprise there. He has some truly beautiful passages, where you can tell he's really enjoying the actual task of writing, rather than dashing his reader about the head and neck with yet another discussion about the Evil Church. His world-building is phenomenal, and his passages among the mulefa, while long-winded, were some of the more interesting in the book. While he never quite reached the richly textured and three-dimensional world-building of The Golden Compass, his prose was never unenjoyable.
Unfortunately, that's about all that was enjoyable. Many of the complaints I had about The Subtle Knife, I had again about the last book in the trilogy--only they were even worse. Pullman spiraled out of control from a young girl's journey into adolescence, to a sprawling anti-Christian diatribe that sacrificed things like coherent plot, reasonable character development, and organic relationships for hamfisted metaphors and shoddy plot resolution. Not at all briefly, a list of the things that were terrible about The Amber Spyglass:
Lyra "Oh, Will!" Silvertongue. Where is the sharp-witted, clever, adventurous girl from the first book? Where is the girl who broke into Bolvangar, freed dozens of kidnapped children, tricked the king of the bears, lied her way in and out of every possible scenario, won over the Gyptians, won over a goddamn armored bear, and fought against her indomitable father, Lord Asriel? In The Subtle Knife, Lyra spent most of the novel following Will around, worrying if what she was doing was all right, worrying about what he thought, worrying about him in general, and crying a lot. It gets no better in the third installment, except now Lyra's constant sniveling and cowtowing to Will is exacerbated by their burgeoning affection for each other--but more on that in a moment. She does nothing of interest at all in this book. Her decisions are constantly left up to Will for his approval and support. The only adventurous thing she does is descend into the world of the dead, which would have been more interesting if it wasn't literally just walking for 5 chapters while Pullman talked about how sick and tired they were (though not nearly as sick and tired as I was--and still with 200 pages left to go!). Will. Ugh, Will. While Pullman had some interesting things going on with him initially--I loved the idea that his mother's schizophrenia might be the result of specters in our world--all of these were dropped in favor of Will being a largely faultless protagonist. He exhibits little fear or doubt; the one crucial scene where he does doubt himself and his choices feels so contrived and manufactured that it shifted my already lukewarm feelings for the character right to disliking him. He is also the biggest offender of Pullman's inability to write children. You'd think he would have a handle on that considering he did so well in the first book; but both Will and Lyra speak like they're full grown adults for the vast majority of The Amber Spyglass. Will is the worst offender: his dialogue reads like he is a well-informed 30-year-old man with opinions and arguments grounded in years of life and research, rather than a 12-year-old boy whose entire existence up until the last, oh, month or so has revolved completely around his mother and her illness. Will becomes so flat and bland and uninteresting, free of flaws or faults, that reading about him was almost painful. It's no wonder Lyra, doubting and crying and shaking and incapable of any of the feats she has already done, turns to him to make any and all decisions. Basically any character who was interesting at some point, come to that. To sum this up, Pullman either killed or essentially rewrote any character who was even moderately interesting in the first two books. Characters who were so vital and vibrant previously are reduced to little more than footnotes, or worse, plot devices. Serafina Pekkala? Gone. Iorek Byrnison? He lumbers around for a few pages, makes some cryptic commentary about the knife, and then is gone. Lee Scoresby is barely identifiable as himself, and Will's father? Nothing more than a walking plot piece, spouting off cryptic knowledge about the outside world without any explanation how he could know it (oh, right, he's a shaman, so I guess he's the author?). I don't even want to get into Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel--they warrant a bullet entirely to themselves. But briefly, the scheming, selfish, power-hungry duo from the first two books, who repeatedly brush off their daughter in their pursuit of something greater, are suddenly and without explanation totally devoted to Lyra's safety and well-being. Mrs. Coulter has whole paragraphs describing her sudden love for Lyra; Lord Asriel sacrifices himself to keep her safe. Now, had these acts been framed as, perhaps, necessary but unwanted steps on the road to freeing the world from The Authority, I might have bought it. At least in Asriel's case; he was clearly unopposed to doing whatever was necessary to accomplish his goal. But Mrs. Coulter? She is reduced to little more than a weeping, desperate Virgin Mary archetype, sacrificing herself and her love for her child. Whatever. Religion. Hoo boy. We know from the get-go that these books were not exactly friendly towards Christianity. That's fine! I thought it was terribly interesting in the first novel and even sort of in the second one. Nobody can really dispute that the Church as a massive power-hungry organization is a good thing. But Pullman executed it so poorly, I was left nearly sympathizing for the Church, which...wasn't what he intended, I'm sure. In Pullman's world, the Church is unequivocally bad. Everyone affiliated with the Church is bad. Everyone affiliated with religion is bad. It's only without God that you can be happy and free. Never mind that religion != Christianity, and in many parts of the world, it's not even the dominant mythology. Never mind all the people of faith--any faith--who have done truly good works (Mother Theresa, Gandhi, MLK Jr., but you know the church is bad so whatevs). Never mind that there are good people who may be questioning certain aspects of religion but not all of it; never mind that it can be a powerful force for good. No, in Pullman's multiverse, the only religion is Christianity, and it's BAD. Unequivocally. The Church itself is almost comically evil. I expected any of them to begin twirling their moustaches and tying girls to train tracks at any given moment. This isn't even to mention the angels! This supposedly cosmic, superpowered force is repeatedly said to be too weak to truly combat humans; hell, Balthamos spends his last appearance literally running away from a dude with a gun. Pullman's mythology is contradictory and ham-fisted. If angels aren't that strong to begin with, how did the Authority or Metatron gain control over humans? (Except in book two they were shown to be a lot stronger than people, sooo.) If the Authority is so incredible and swayed everyone to his way of thinking, how was he defeated by...falling out of a chaise lounge? I don't know. And Metatron! Defeated by his cosmic desire to get his ethereal dick wet. Yeah. I can't even go on here. This book read like a massive wank fest about Pullman's atheism, like how shitty is organized religion you guys???? The mulefa, Brother Frank or whoever, the entire world of the dead. Okay, of these, the mulefa were actually really interesting as a concept. I didn't mind their meandering chapters, though they were a pretty constant source of plot stagnation. A lot of them seemed like so much padding, Pullman experimenting in semi-anthropological writings and no editor in sight. But the hired killer-cum-priest? His entire novel-long arc ended in him encountering, for roughly five minutes, a character who had unceremoniously left the narrative 300 pages before, and then dying. He never encountered any of his targets or provided any real tension; he was the character equivalent (almost literally) of a Chekov's gun which was brandished and then carefully placed back on the mantle without ever firing. The entire world of the dead arc dragged on far too long with far too many diversions, and considering Lyra's whole purpose in going there was to rescue Roger, that poor kid sure got shafted as far as page time went. Most of it was dedicated to--you guessed it--Lyra and Will, predominately Lyra crying and looking to Will for guidance. Also there was a bomb or something, I guess, that made no sense whatsoever? Anyway, RELIGION SUCKS The subtle knife. It broke??? This is apparently a thing that can happen??? And hasn't happened in 300 years so literally every bearer before was 100% resolute and without doubt or something??? THIS PLOT MADE NO FUCKING SENSE Babes in Boyland, or, Two Twelve Year Olds Doing It. Y'all, these are twelve-year-old kids. Now, I had crushes when I was 12; I think we can all attest to that. But the fact that their ~romance~ was unironically shown as this life-long true love between characters Pullman was essentially writing as adults by that point, is a little disconcerting. Does Pullman know any twelve year olds? Has he ever met a child? Even with these life-changing experiences, I can promise you that no twelve year old is thinking of true love at the end of things, and certainly not sex. The talk about who they would marry was cute, and I think the crush developed between them was very sweet; but when it went full-blown into grown up love like they were two adults who had any concept of what romantic love was, and that no one else in the book questioned this, that was too much. And then they saved the world by fucking? Two children saved the world by having sex. Yes. That is the entire crux of the plot and solution to literally every problem in all the worlds--two kids going at it like rabbits. Sorry, Pullman, even writing them like adults couldn't sell that for me. The metaphors. I think everything was a metaphor, actually. Pullman is a very good writer, but he has an unfortunate tendency to spend several paragraphs detailing some minor detail, only to turn around and slap you in the face with IT WAS A METAPHOR!! IT WAS A METAPHOR FOR THIS THING (PROBABLY RELIGION, DID YOU KNOW I HATE IT, I'M PHILLIP PULLMAN AND I'M AN ATHEIST). Like, okay bro, we get it. We get it.
This novel was such a let-down in every way possible. I could have stopped the trilogy at the end of The Golden Compass and been happy; I guess now at least I know the other two books are mind-numbing shit never to be spoken of in polite society. So Dust is successful I guess because curiosity prevails! Or sex! Or something! WHO THE HELL KNOWS, PS RELIGION IS DUMB XOXO GOSSIP PULLMAN...more
I'll write a more complete review another time, but I have to note how dissatisfying the sudden switch from protagonist to supporting character Lyra'sI'll write a more complete review another time, but I have to note how dissatisfying the sudden switch from protagonist to supporting character Lyra's arc has taken has been. In The Golden Compass, the book was unquestionably about Lyra, and she was flawed and loving and wild and fascinating. But in book two, it's as if all that was just to lead us to the ~real~ hero, Will Parry. Lyra loses a lot of her spark and natural leadership. She led a rescue mission into the Arctic against her mother in the last book, but now everything she does is with Will's approval and leadership. Where is the Lyra who got an armored bear to aid her? Or the Lyra who led a troupe pf children out of Bolvangar? Or who fought against her father? Who cares! Because Will Parry is around to save the day!
I was also frankly bored by both Cittagaze and the forays into our world; even Mary Malone quickly lost her charm. When the novel was about this strange, alien world, it was interesting; I just don't really want to read about a boring, serious 12-year-old boy with a destiny~ when I could be reading about Lyra or Iorek or literally any other character.
Serafina Pekala and Lee Scoresby's interludes were great, at least. ...more
I said I'd give this 100 pages, but honestly, I just don't care enough. This book isn't poorly written (the actual prose is...fine; some heavy-handedI said I'd give this 100 pages, but honestly, I just don't care enough. This book isn't poorly written (the actual prose is...fine; some heavy-handed metaphors, but nothing terrible) so much as boring, and subject to pitfalls of its own making. Putting a novel about an ostensibly poignant and emotional coming of age story in the voice of its fourteen-year-old protagonist is always a risky maneuver; fourteen-year-olds are not exactly the greatest storytellers, realistically speaking, and to make them readable you often have to succumb to the tired trope of the too-intelligent, world-weary, dreamy protagonist who Just Wants To Be Loved. I won't give a summary of the book--I haven't finished it, for one, and don't intend to; and you can find plenty of summaries elsewhere--but after 75 pages if I find the protagonist mind-numbingly boring, the prose bland, and the entire conceit of the book saccharine and schmaltzy, well, I'm just not going to continue. June doesn't seem to be grieving so much as self-centered and whiny; her touching anecdotes about her uncle Finn are just sappy vignettes about how wonderful and perfect and flawless he was; her blind ignorance of anyone around her trying to reach out and befriend her doesn't come off as an ironic disparity between the narrative and its reality, so much as a teenager being an oblivious brat. I had quite enough of that when I was a teenager; I don't really want to relive it. Maybe it gets better later, but a book shouldn't take 100+ pages to become palatable, particularly when the book isn't even 400 pages total. ...more
**spoiler alert** What a letdown. I picked this up expecting an exciting, interesting retelling of the Helen myth with a spunky, resourceful heroine--**spoiler alert** What a letdown. I picked this up expecting an exciting, interesting retelling of the Helen myth with a spunky, resourceful heroine--not even close. Helen is spunky, sure; but she's also spoiled, self-centered, inexplicably perfect at whatever she sets her mind to--including besting her older, better trained brothers at sword fighting AND helping kill the Calydonian boar. At the ripe old age of 14. Yeah. Everyone likes her, except her bizarrely vengeful and petty twin sister, and easily forgives her foolhardy actions. There is a brief period where she questions why everyone loves her, but that quickly passes and is forgotten. Most troublingly, the book supports a backwards mentality that girls are only valuable if they can fight and act like boys. It's cloaked in a message of fighting antiquated patriarchal ideals of femininity, which is always good; but it's frankly just as counterprodutive to tell girls they can only be one thing or the other, whether that thing is a wife or a warrior. Not only does Helen disdain the wife path; every (laughably two-dimensional) character does as well. Forced myself through 80% of the kindle version before I couldn't take it any more. Worst $8 I ever spent. ...more
This got off to a slow start, but was ultimately very enjoyable. I think when I began approaching it as less of a YA novel--i.e. aimed at teens or eveThis got off to a slow start, but was ultimately very enjoyable. I think when I began approaching it as less of a YA novel--i.e. aimed at teens or even early early 20s--and more of a young child novel, aimed at children in grade school, I could take it more at face value. The writing is simple and, as noted in a status update, fable-esque (which suits the entire tone and set up of the story, of course). The characters aren't exactly three dimensional, but they are well-rounded enough for the purposes of the story, to grow in the end, and to teach a fable's necessary moral.
The most simultaneously interesting and irritating parts of the book where the side stories, the sudden pauses to tell an old tale or someone's history. I liked them on their own, but, particularly when there were several in a row, they were a little jarring and pulled me out of the main story.
I don't really have too much to say on this one! It was very sweet, a quick read--I got through the last half in one morning--and once it got going, was very enjoyable. Would recommend!...more
I'm in the minority on this one, I guess. I wanted to like this--it had a lot going for it! The worldbuilding was a lot of fun, the side characters weI'm in the minority on this one, I guess. I wanted to like this--it had a lot going for it! The worldbuilding was a lot of fun, the side characters were good, and I enjoyed the secret-nobility-on-the-run plot; but BOY, was this incredibly tedious! Primarily anything having to do with Deryn "literally better than anyone at everything, for some reason" Sharp. Tbqh, Deryn was absolutely loathsome. Her primary conflict--being found out as a girl--was basically out of the picture by a few chapters in. Her narration read like a teenager's first attempt at Harry Potter fanfiction, liberally peppered with ~Britishisms~ like Westerfeld was being paid by the colloquialism. And so many ellipses! I've never seen a narrative as unsure of itself. Aleks's was fine; I have a soft spot for arrogant royals learning to be humble and useful. But it took nearly 2/3 of the book for their plots to even get near each other, and in that time, only Aleks's seemed to advance the plot. Deryn's, barring the belated appearance of Dr. Barlow, was deeply uninteresting except for lengthy discussions of fabricated creatures. 80% through and I just can't make myself continue. I'm just bored. ...more
Wow. This is the actual worst YA book I've read in a while. Not of all time, but certainly in the last couple of years. Usually even mediocre YA is eaWow. This is the actual worst YA book I've read in a while. Not of all time, but certainly in the last couple of years. Usually even mediocre YA is easy enough that I can, at least, finish the book--but not this time. Gemma is a flat, uninteresting character, whose entire characterization seems to be she's feisty, she doesn't fit in with ~other girls~, and she wants to fuck Kartik's brains out but oh, she's a lady. Halfway through the book and I had no real understanding of who Gemma was, what she wanted in life besides understanding her mysterious~ powers, or how she felt about anyone in her family besides guilt (her mother) and vague disdain (everyone else). Felicity was a more interesting character, and even she was remarkably two-dimensional: a catty, manipulative popular girl with parent issues. How new! Kartik, the love interest, had roughly the appeal of three day old toast, and that's being generous. I understand the "mysterious dark stranger" is a trope for love interests, particularly in paranormal romance, but that was literally all he was. We don't know anything about him except his brother is...someone, who died, I guess? I don't know, because in all Gemma's heaving bosoms and wet dreams, this is never fucking brought up except once. Her attraction to Kartik feels completely contrived and unnecessary. The relationships between herself and the other girls, which border (perhaps intentionally? I don't know, this prose is so bad) on lesbian tendencies, are much more natural and interesting--really, the only good thing about the book. I couldn't get past page 200, but I was legitimately surprised Bray pursued the heterosexual relationship between Gemma and Kartik when it's pretty clear that at least one of the girls in the group is a lesbian, and Felicity/Gemma has ten times as much chemistry.
I put this book down a week ago after reading several lovingly detailed pages of Gemma's wet dream about Kartik, the mysterious foreigner who has done nothing but yell at her, lie to her, and stalk her, and I honestly can't formulate a proper review even now, days later. I'm still flabbergasted by how truly terrible this book is. Offensively so, considering how highly it's rated. ...more
Keeping this one short, but a definitely enjoyed this book. I would have given it five stars if the pacing had been a bit better: I spent the first haKeeping this one short, but a definitely enjoyed this book. I would have given it five stars if the pacing had been a bit better: I spent the first half of the book very interested, but not entirely sure where everything was going. Healey seemed to have this cloud of exciting events that weren't quite related to each other; but in the middle of the book things exploded in action and kept getting better from there, so I can't entirely fault it. Still, the first half of the book and the second half of the book seemed to be two separate stories that didn't quite mesh together when they met in the middle.
Her writing style is easy to get into; her heroine is funny and relatable. Ellie is self-conscious without it completely diminishing her self-worth, which is not something you see in heroines a lot these days. Further, the object of her affection does creepy, not-okay things to her and she doesn't let it slide--even as she's falling for him. She's tough and smart, and by the end of the book, I had no trouble believing she had grown up as she had. It was more like I was waiting for her to grow into that person: Healey really laid the foundations for Ellie's maturity well.
I'd go on about the Maori legends (fascinating), the interweaving of various mythologies (very well done), or the other characters in the book (all interesting to read), but suffice to say that it's definitely a book worth picking up. ...more
Not all it was cracked up to be. The book wasn't bad at all, but it definitely wasn't great, and even though it's a very slim volume, I found myself hNot all it was cracked up to be. The book wasn't bad at all, but it definitely wasn't great, and even though it's a very slim volume, I found myself having to psych myself into reading it at times instead of, say, doing laundry or paying my bills. I think I would have liked this more when I was 10 or 11: the writing style is very simple (not in a bad way, just simplistic) and things--plot developments, relationships--seem to just happen without all that much lead up or rhyme or reason. People meet and have a short conversation, and the narrative then tells us they have decided to be friends and trust each other. While I knew Jonathan was to play a fairly large role in the end of the book just by the description on the dust jacket, when it ultimately happened, he and Alanna seemed thrown together because it was necessary to the plot, rather than a well-laid interpersonal reason. Again, I don't think I would have noticed these things as a preteen or young teenager, and the book certainly has enough to merit it to that audience: a feisty, faulted heroine who refuses to let a societal notion keep her from her goals, a cast of interesting, supportive side characters, magic, knighthood. But personally I felt the book plodded along while we were told plot-relevant things had occurred, rather than being shown them occurring (such as being told Gary had come to trust the King of Thieves after five sentences between them). I'm not really sure I want to continue with the series because of it, despite the rave reviews....more