The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Genre: Preteen Fantasy Fiction
Published in 1997
Recommended Age Group: 9 and Up
Summary: The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials book 2) begins in our own world and then moves between worlds. In our world we follow the life of William Perry, the son of the famous explorer John Perry who disappeared shortly after Williams birth. William killed a man in his home in an effort to keep his mother and some documents safe. It is when he is on the run that Will finds the window into another world and into a city known as Cittàgazze (shortened to Ci’gazze) that is only inhabited by children. It is while he is in Ci’gazze that he runs into Lyra who crossed a bridge from her world to this one.
Lyra and Will band together and move from world to world trying to get answers. Lyra is looking for information on Dust and Will is trying to find his father. Along the way they meet up with enemies and friends, some new and some old. One of their new friends is Dr. Mary Malone, who comes from our world and is working on Dust, called shadow particles. She gives Lyra some information Dust that helps her in her quest. Will finds more about his father’s disappearance in the library and learns whom to trust.
Serafina Pekkala, the witch who helped save Lyra in the first book, goes to learn what Lord Asriel’s purpose is and discovers that “he’s aiming a rebellion against the highest power of all. He’s gone a-searching for the dwelling place of the Authority Himself, and he’s a-going to destroy Him” (p. 46). Basically he wants to recreate the Great War in heaven and ensure victory for the rebel angles (p. 198). After discovering this Serafina goes of in search of Lyra and finds her and Will being attacked by the children of Ci’gazze. Serafina helps them to escape and they go in search of Lord Asriel with Mrs. Coulter following behind with an army of zombies. In the end Will finds the answers he’s looking for but his joy is cut short and we find out more about Lyra’s purpose and what her and Will are to accomplish.
Personal Notes: This was an amazing book. I read with awe at the scope and magnitude of not only the plot but also changing setting and the underlying story for each main character. It is a truly great and original endeavor. Pullman sets out to recreate history and the war in heaven. Dr. Grumman says, “this time the right side must win… It’s time to start again but properly this time” (p. 319). Most of the main characters side with the rebel angels who were cast out of Heaven into Hell after the last war. They believe that destroying God will give them more knowledge, wisdom, and strength (p. 320). I can’t wait to read the conclusion of this trilogy.
I have a few things for those who are worried about the content of these books affecting their children and their belief in God and His power. There are a few things that are concerning. The fact that the main idea is to destroy God and give power to the devils may not be a message that you want your children to read about. It is also troubling how one of Pullman’s characters describes the Church he says, “That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling” (p. 50). This is an amazing story and one that I don’t think I want my children to miss out on. I think the best thing to do is tell them how you feel about God and your church. Make sure they know how you feel and try to discover how they feel too. Tell them that this is a story and that the power and authority of the real God has never been in question. One of the witches in the books says that she is not worried about their God being destroyed because he is not her God. That is the way I choose to read these books. He’s not my God. He may represent him or sound a lot like him but he’s not the same, thus reading a story about someone killing their God doesn’t bother me. I hope that helped.
— All page numbers are from the paperback edition with isbn: 0-440-41833-x.
Other reviews available: