Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Subtle Knife

Let me just start things off by saying that this cover kind of terrifies me a little.  I know that monkey-dogface creature in the background is likely meant to be Mrs Coulter's daemon, but it looks more like the stuff of nightmares.  So it's a good thing I finished The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman in one night, straight.  This is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  

We start off first thing with a new character, twelve-year-old Will Parry, who lives in the England of our world.  Some men are after something in his house, and it's tormenting his mother, so he stashes her with his old piano teacher and takes off with the thing he suspects the men are after.  He makes it to Oxford and finds what looks like a window, but in the middle of the air.  Not a regular window, can only see into it from a certain angle.  Well, he's basically on the run and trying to disappear for a while, so obviously he goes on through this thing and finds himself in another world entirely.

Now I know what you're maybe thinking, but this isn't Lyra's world from The Golden Compass, either.  If you recall from the end of that book, Lord Asriel was looking into the matter of Dust, and all kinds of crazy shit happened, and Lyra decided to try and follow him through the portal or whatever it was that he'd managed to open.  Anyway, so this place Will stumbled into isn't Lyra's world because she's found her way into it, too.  This is where they meet each other and sort of team up.

It's almost serendipity that the two have found each other, because she wandered into this world trying to follow her father, and Will is hoping to find out about his own father, who went missing when he was just a baby.  John Parry was an ex-Marine-turned-professional-explorer, and it's possible there is a connection between his father and the men who have been harassing his mother.

So Will and Lyra kind of go back and forth an awful lot between Will's Oxford and the almost-deserted city in the world they came into.  Lyra of course gets them mixed up in all kinds of trouble when a man notices her with the alethiometer in a museum and she meets with a physicist to discuss Dust.  All the while, though, there are great changes happening in all worlds, and Will is about to find out that it may be more than mere chance that brought him through that astral window and into the path of Lyra and Pan.  He may have a much bigger role to play in what's about to come than he would ever have imagined.

Some familiar characters are back, such as of course Lyra and Pan and Mrs Coulter, but we follow Lee Scoresby the aeronaut again as well, and the witches are back in a much bigger way than in the last book.  I was really pleased with that, because I was always really intrigued with Pullman's witches, so I was glad to learn more about them and their ways.  There are some new characters besides Will, as well.  I very much enjoyed Dr Malone, and I hope we get to read more about her in the final book of the trilogy.

Where in The Golden Compass, things on the large scale were building and building and building, I feel like Pullman picked up the tension right where he left off when you  begin The Subtle Knife.  The air is charged, and there is never a dull moment.  I almost wonder how Lyra can manage it, because it seems like she and Pan haven't had a chance for a break from anything at all since the moment they hid in that wardrobe at Jordan College.  I like her and Will as a team together; they seem a bit at odds, but it works.  Will is a bit more strait-laced and tries to keep under the radar as a main part of his strategy, whereas Lyra is very quick and clever and kind of rough around the edges.  She's a scrappy little thing and that is a big part of why I adore her.  She admires Will because she recognizes him as a fighter, for all his quiet nature, and compares him more than once to Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear she befriended on her journey north to Svalbard in her own world.

I'm excited to read the final installment of this trilogy, because the momentum hasn't let down once for me with this series so far, and even though I cried through most of the end of this one, I really did think it was a great book.  I also think this series is a good start for someone who is interested in fantasy or altiverse but isn't quite ready for the massively epic series yet; Pullman's world(s) are so easy to get drawn into, but the books themselves are pretty short and there is no lack of action.  

Oh yeah, and there's a knife.  It's kind of a big deal.



Del Rey

Series Info:  What came before this book?  What's next?
His Dark Materials trilogy
- The Golden Compass / Northern Lights (Book 1)
* The Subtle Knife (Book 2)
- The Amber Spyglass (Book 3)

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