When I wrote my review of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass I admitted being puzzled at all the fuss being made about its “anti-Christianity” message. Well now that I’ve finished The Subtle Knife it all makes a lot of sense. In this, the second book of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, Pullman’s atheistic leanings become much more pronounced.
This didn’t bother me personally, but I can understand how it could be offensive to some. And frankly, without going on a huge tangent, its easy to point to all the quantifiable evil that has been done in the name of the church (the Spanish Inquisition springs immediately to mind), but its much harder to measure the good that comes out of peoples’ religion. How much evil has been averted due to a moral compass guided by faith? Well anyway, I’m about the last person in the world who should be taking on these questions, so let’s get back to the book.
Lyra Silvertongue is back in this volume, but she ‘co-stars’ with a boy name Will who is from our world, or at least a world that seems identical to ours. He is on a quest to find his missing father, and in the course of events he finds a window into another world. Not Lyra’s world, but a third world that felt like something out of a Star Trek episode mixed with a bit of Lord of the Flies. No adults, children bordering on going feral, and an unseen evil.
In fact there is some fairly intense violence in this book, and in general once again the concepts being discussed (elementary particles, dark matter) are going to go over the heads of most younger kids, so this is definitely for teenagers and older. Also once again, there’s nothing here to make it less interesting to adults; don’t let the YA tag make you think it’s just for kids.
No talking polar bears in this one, and in general things seem a lot less fantasy-ish. Will is a fairly normal kid, and the creepy kids-only world seems fairly ‘ordinary’ too, aside from those facets I already mentioned. Plus we transition back to “our” world a few times.
But I found this volume more compelling. Perhaps because I could relate to Will more, or perhaps because the “Big Picture” of what the trilogy is building towards became much more clear. And we do get a few more of my favorite Book 1 characters popping in.
The ending is, if anything, even more of a cliff-hanger than the ending to The Golden Compass. Make sure you have book 3 at hand as you wind down to the end of this one!