Rebecca's Reviews > The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
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Mar 30, 2008

liked it
Recommended for: fantasy fans
Read in May, 2008

This book was far more engaging than its predecessor, most likely because Pullman decided to tone down the amount of page time that Lyra got and instead developed Will's character. Will is by far the better protagonist, and we can only hope that Lyra will benefit from being near him and that some of his maturity will rub off on her. As with the first in the trilogy, the writing was a joy to read in this book. If the third is better than this one, I'm in for a real treat.

My only main criticism is that the whole rebel angel/Eve/next fall from grace stuff was incorporated into the plot a bit clumsily. There was foreshadowing about Lyra being "special," and of course we already knew that the church was evil, but the revelation of this quest towards the end of the book didn't really seem to fit with the tone of the story so far. The atmosphere up to this point was very other-worldly and fantastic, and suddenly it was like Pullman was abruptly writing from a very realistic political point of view that didn't seem to fit with his created universe. It's like he was having fun writing a very engrossing fantasy story, and then decided to start awkwardly and heavy-handedly inserting atheism (or at least anti-religiosity) into the plot. The only reason I wasn't taken aback more by this development is that I had heard conservatives complaining about the series and its god-killing. But even though I wasn't shocked to read about this upcoming battle against the "Authority," it still seemed a bit tacked on at the end of the book and not given a very good context or rationale.

I'm also a little wary about Lord Asriel's next appearance -- he seems to me to be evil and calculating through and through, and I don't really like the way Pullman was trying to set him up as one of the "good guys" (or at least as "not one of the bad guys") at the end of this book. I'm all for fantasy novels including characters who inhabit a moral gray area, but in my opinion, Lord Asriel is just as power-hungry and opportunistic and ruthless as the church he's fighting, and I really hope Will and Lyra don't get conned into joining him.

I assume (hope) Pullman will take everything firmly in hand for the last book in the trilogy, because otherwise this mystical battle against religion will seem just plain silly and faux-epic. One thing that routinely turns me off of fantasy is the entirely too trumped-up and over-dramatic "epic-ness" that so many fantasy novels aspire to. It usually comes off as very cliche and over-serious, and I'm really hoping this series doesn't fall into that trap.
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