Brad's Reviews > The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
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's review
Mar 27, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: most-hated, fantasy, avoid-at-all-costs

My entire review could be this: Phillip Pullman's "The Amber Spyglass" is one of the poorest closing books of a trilogy ever written.

But I feel compelled to continue. At one point, I actually stopped reading "The Amber Spyglass," put it down and vowed not to finish, but I wanted to be able to slag off the book with authority, so finishing became a must. And I even had a slight hope that Pullman could save his series

I did finish, but it never got any better.

Mulefa? Gallivespians? Iorek Byrnison fixing the incredibly fragile subtle knife? The knife breaking at all? Mrs. Coulter continuing to live? The incredible coincidence of everyone meeting the same Cittàgazze kids? It was all too much, and it only got worse as the book went on.

Thematically it was equally frustrating. There has been so much talk about Pullman's anti-religiosity, but the most offensive part of The Amber Spyglass is Pullman's portrayal of women. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Pullman is a misogynist , but he does seem to have a poor understanding of women.

The five main women in "His Dark Materials" are a catalogue of feminine stereotypes. Lyra, as her name so clumsily suggests, is a consummate liar, who eventually becomes a moony-eyed, love sick teen, subordinating herself to her lover Will. Mrs. Coulter is a manipulative femme fatale whose only hint of goodness is her inexplicable maternal instinct. Mary Malone is the pure ex-nun full of kindness and curiosity, blessedly open to all new things. Seraphina Pekkala, the loyal witch, is the classic "heart of gold" character (usually she'd be a whore with a heart of gold, but in a kids book witch with a heart of gold will do). Then there is Mrs. Parry, Will's mom, and her madness (other women appear in the story more, but they're not as important as Will's mom). There are few if any shades of gray in these women, and as the book drew ever nearer the close I found myself hoping desperately for the women to do something unexpected. My wish went unfulfilled.

Maddening, frustrating, and a great disappointment because of what it promised, China Mieville got it right when he made his list of 50 books every good Marxist should read and said, "in book three, 'The Amber Spyglass,' something goes wrong. It has excellent bits, it is streets ahead of its competition… but there's sentimentality, a hesitation, a formalism, which lets us down."

On second thought, Mieville was too nice. "The Amber Spyglass" should be avoided like a plate of raw chicken meat on a hot African day. Read "The Golden Compass" and skip the rest. Period.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 20, 2008 – Finished Reading
March 27, 2008 – Shelved
August 19, 2008 – Shelved as: most-hated
September 14, 2008 – Shelved as: fantasy
May 21, 2010 – Shelved as: avoid-at-all-costs

Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

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Meredith Holley (Sparrow) I could not agree more.

Terence Brad,

I read His Dark Materials in the pre-GoodReads days so when I was building my library I gave it three stars because I liked the series overall, even though I had been dissatisfied with the final book.

As happens often enough, you've articulated much of what disappointed me in the end.

Nice review.

message 3: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Thanks, Terence. There are so many pre-goodreads books that I have similar experiences with, and I find myself wanting to reread things I never would have considered rereading just so I can articulate my feelings about them on here. Glad I could express it for you.

message 4: by Becky (new)

Becky Again, you hit the nail on the head completely. I was sick with disappointment at this after the first two - what a let down!

The animals on wheels really made me angry. To this dasy I can't figure out why!

message 5: by C. (new) - rated it 3 stars

C. I'm sorry, Brad, but I disagree. You're right to say that they female characters are a 'catalogue of female stereotypes', but the male characters are just as bad. Every character in the whole series (not just the final book) is a two-dimensional figure without a character arc.

I still really like this series, including the last book - I think the terrible characterisation works, somehow.

message 6: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Fair enough, Choupette. I figured this review was going to be a polarizing one.

Brandon Mrs. Coulter lived? I swore she, along with Lord Asriel and Metatron, fell into an abyss and died.

message 8: by Lori (new)

Lori I did too.

Brandon And I think if Lyra had subordinated herself to Will, she would have went with him to his world, but she doesn't. She chooses to do the right thing over choosing love. Seraphina Pekkala is a whore? For having sex? I think that's YOUR misogyny. Not Pullman's.

message 10: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad I didn't say she was a whore. I said she fit the stereotype that usually takes that form.

message 11: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday nice review, although i couldn't disagree more! i loved this one. but then i loved the entire trilogy, from beginning to end.

one question: you make a very interesting point re. the women in the series (one that i hadn't previously considered)... but, as Choupette mentions - couldn't the same be said for the male characters? outside of the gay angels, i'm not sure i see Pullman favoring men over women in his characterization. i think you may have read this one more recently than me, so i'm hoping your memory is more fresh than mine.

message 12: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Sadly, mark, I read this quite a while ago, so I don't remember things all that well. The books I hate tend to dissipate from my mind rather quickly once I write a review. The only thing I can clearly remember is Lyra's subordination to Will. He becomes the doer, and the destiny and power, in the form of the Subtle Knife and its role, are his. Lyra helps that along, but her role as the doer ends in the first book, and that increasingly pissed me off as things went on.

I am not sure that I ever really disagreed with Choupette's take in terms of the male characters being as two-dimensional and poorly drawn as the female. But the two-dimensionality of males traditionally gives them the power, so it's far easier to overlook.

I remember being pretty excited by Lyra in the first book (Mrs. Coulter and Seraphina as well), and I think some of my frustration is that they never achieved their promise.

Sorry I can't explain this any better.

message 13: by C. (new) - rated it 3 stars

C. I haven't read this for a while either, but from memory I think I agree with you now.

message 14: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday the two-dimensionality of males traditionally gives them the power, so it's far easier to overlook

that is a really good point Brad. such an interesting and astute way of looking at male vs. female representation. i'm not speaking about Amber Spyglass specifically (which, as i mentioned, i love), but when i think about two-dimensional representation, that is exactly how women can be demeaned, both consciously & unconsciously, by the author, as they are placed in various subservient roles. and yet two-dimensional characterization for men often has the opposite end result: two dimensional characters who exist on the opposite end of the power spectrum, i.e. in power

Helen (Helena/Nell) My favourite bit: "I wanted to be able to slag off the book with authority, so finishing became a must". Yeay!

message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark Read the Trilogy quite a long time ago but would agree that number three did not come up to the other twos standard. Like Mark i think your point re two dimensional characterization a really interesting one.

message 17: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Thanks guys.

Chris Brandon wrote: "Mrs. Coulter lived? I swore she, along with Lord Asriel and Metatron, fell into an abyss and died."

She did die in the abyss with Metatron and Asriel

message 19: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Oh well, my attention must have seriously waned in the latter stages. Thanks for the info Chris.

Chris Just out of curiosity was it the anti religious angle that mainly put you off the book?

message 21: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Great Beelzebub, no! I'm an atheist, so it didn't bother me at all. I felt it was just poorly executed and unsatisfying.

message 22: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday Merciful Mephistophecles!

message 23: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Auble A bit late, but technically she and Lord Asriel didn't /die/ in the abyss - given its nature, it is implied that, after falling in, they would have just continued to "fall" endlessly. But effectively, yeah, they died.

message 24: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara Marie You have a multiverse theory, so of course there will be more characters. I'm sorry you missed that point. I agree this was a rough ending to an otherwise amazing trilogy, but you seem so caught up in sounding intelligent in your criticism you comment on things that simply did not happen. If you cannot bother to remember the details of a book, then don't write a review full of criticisms.

message 25: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad I didn't miss that point, Sara, I just thought it was terribly handled. When my brain imagines a multiverse, I immediately see the possibility of coincidence from universe to universe diminish rather than rise.

And so far as I can tell the only thing I wrote about that didn't happen was the Coulter business, and while it has been a long, long time since I read that book I have been forced to reread this review repeatedly, and I am guessing I meant that I couldn't believe she even survived to appear in this book at all, but I honestly can't remember. So I apologize once again for my shortcomings in the Coulter department.

Surely, however, if this book has left so little impression on me, an avid reader, then I am able to comment on that.

message 26: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara Marie Derek wrote: "A bit late, but technically she and Lord Asriel didn't /die/ in the abyss - given its nature, it is implied that, after falling in, they would have just continued to "fall" endlessly. But effective..."

Here's my understanding. They fell in, so they as living creatures would eventually die of starvation/shock/heart failure. Their ghosts would then continue to fall since they have no access to Lyra's window.

Personally, I find this a satisfying end for them both.

message 27: by Sara (last edited Aug 14, 2013 06:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara Marie Brad, yes- I understand how the book could leave a less than favorable impression. I often comment to people to scale my four star review back by a half star. There's a lot about this book I love- and there's a few pieces I'm still scratching my head over.

If it left little impression, though, then why write a review at all?

message 28: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Because since goodreads appeared I feel compelled to write about each book I read no matter my enjoyment. Nothing more than that, I suppose.

Ivanna Im gonna star this and i am kinda sad with the reviews. I really wanna finish it because i hate have unfinished books but idi

Srividya Srikumar True... Good review! I read the book only because I wanted to finish the book and the series and be done with it... thoroughly disappointed with the ending!

Amanda As a woman, I don't agree that the main female cast is stereotypically written. I found the characters you brought up to be very diverse and powerful in different ways, and they in no way took a back seat to the men in the story.

message 32: by Connie (new)

Connie I really enjoyed these comments. Thanks to Brad and everybody.

Alice got so bored with this pretentious unsubstantiated "review". nothing annoys me more than having a review starting with "i wanted to stop but then i went on because i wanted to feel empowered enough to write a half-baked goodreads critic".
that is macho attitude.

message 34: by Posh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Posh Interesting depictation of the franchise by drawing conclusion that the female characters are the shortcomings for the whole story. I think the male characters are obedient, manipulated/manipulative vessels for the most parts of the series. It's been a while since you posted this and probably want to let it lie but it is posted at the top of the goodreads reviews. Apologies.

Catherine Raw chicken meat!!

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