The Subtle Knife

Rating: .5
Author: Philip Pullman
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pub. date: 1997 (read on Audible Sep. 2019)

I flew through The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife and I’m currently about halfway through the Amber Spyglass (Or I was at the time of writing – I’ve since finished it). It was my second time reading the first two books and I have to say, I’m enjoying the series a lot more on my second read-through.

Unfortunately I didn’t like The Subtle Knife quite as much as I liked The Golden Compass, although I did still in enjoy it. I think it may suffer from middle book syndrome in that is does a lot to prepare the plot for the final book, but doesn’t seem to have that much action. The Golden Compass was extremely fast paced after the initial few chapters and The Subtle Knife just doesn’t quite carry that momentum through. The biggest change is that it goes from a single story narrated by Lyra, to a multi POV book featuring a large cast of characters – most of whom are new characters.

Lyra was one of the highlights from the first book for me. She’s spunky and outgoing and has a bit of a lying streak that becomes a large part of her character. Pullman takes the story in a very different direction in The Subtle Knife. It was interesting to see the introduction of other worlds into the narrative, but the religious themes definitely become a little more heavy handed. I liked the subtle commentaries that Pullman makes in the first book about the church, but there’s nothing subtle about it in the second book as Lord Asriel is off on a mission to destroy the Authority.

I really liked the introduction to Will’s character though. He’s probably my second favourite character after Lyra and it was fun getting to learn more about him and postulate on what his significance will be to the greater story. Like I said, I found the existence of many worlds really interesting and thought the knife was a fascinating subject, but I did feel that  a lot of this book was set up for the finale and that too much world building took place to prepare for that. It’s a complicated system and there’s a lot going on. I got a bit bogged down by the details at times and just kept waiting for something more exciting to happen.

I think where this book fails is that it loses some of the mystery element from the first book, as well as the villains that were driving the story. It’s just not as exciting without the creepy Mrs. Coulter and the enigmatic Lord Asriel. That said though, I did still enjoy this one a lot and flew through it.

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