Caroline's Reviews > The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
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's review
Mar 09, 08

bookshelves: read-in-2002, young-adult, read-in-2008, steampunk
Read in March, 2008

Pullman really does know how to write an addictive story with some excellent twists thrown in. While his writing can be pretty cheesy and weak at times, I'm willing to forgive him for just how complicated the story was and how interesting the characters continue to be.

I'm always really satisfied when characters aren't good or bad, but rather somewhere in between where they're very much human in their actions and feelings. I've been reading the fantasy genre for years, and after a while it does get tiring to have the villains be mindlessly evil with no realistic characteristics and the heroes be all sugar and nice without anything twisted about them. There are no characters that are either completely evil or completely good in the series, which is great by me. Even the children that are the center stage of this novel (Lyra Silvertongue and her new partner, Will Parry from our version of Oxford) have some dark sides to their characters.

My only real issue is the writing itself, which at times goes exactly against what any creative writing teacher will drill into your head--show, not tell. There are times when I feel like the narration is so dumbed down and hand-feeding the reader, rather than letting the reader understand things for themselves. The feels quite awkward at times, especially when one second it's telling and the next we're getting huge speeches from scientists that are rambling about their theories on Dust that can be a bit hard to follow if you're half-asleep.

On that note, I still am a bit surprised that these books are geared towards children. They seem a lot more adult in subject, and while they're fun adventure stories I imagine a lot of kids get lost with all the theoretical and religion bits. As an adult reader, I appreciated it, however.

I did enjoy the addition of a third world (there's Lyra's earth, Will's earth, and then the third earth that is a step between the two), with the very scary Specters that would only attack adults and would feed off their souls like vampires. I liked the extra layer it added to the theories on Dust, and how it really gets you curious as to just what the stuff is.

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