THE SUBTLE KNIFE by Philip Pullman

the-subtle-knife-philip-pullman1This is the second volume in the His Dark Materials  YA trilogy.  I discuss the first volume, The Golden Compass, here.

In this book, we start off in modern day London in our own world.  We are introduced to a new main character, teenager Will Parry, who we find stashing his emotionally disturbed mother with a friend to keep her hidden from some mysterious men who want something from her, and frighten her.  His explorer father disappeared years ago in the far north on an expedition, never to be heard from again.

Will discovers some papers his mother has hidden, and wakes in the middle of the night to find those men searching his house.  He pushes past one of them who trips over the family cat and tumbles down the stairs, which fall kills him.   Will races out into the night,  ends up at a park to see a cat step delicately through a …. well, hole….. in the air …… and disappear.  He goes over to that space, investigates, and finds that he, too, can step through this hole in the air into another world.

In this other world, he comes upon a city, totally deserted.  As he wanders around he comes upon some children, but no adults.  There, he also meets our young heroine from the first book, Lyra and her daemon.  At first, she is frightened of him because he has no daemon, but then sees that his daemon is inside him, and then Will comes to understand that in his world, people have lost touch with their daemons, experiencing them only as occasional voices in their heads or as ‘hunches’.

Lyra wants to go through the ‘window’ into Will’s world to search for her father, Lord Asriel who is said to be gathering forces for an attack on heaven.  When through into Will’s world, they split up, Lyra meets up with the evil Lord Boreal from the first book, this time in his manifestation as a wealthy consultant to politicians.  He steals her truthtelling device,  at which point the attempt of Will and Lyra ensues to retrieve it.

They get it, go back to the other world to learn that it is filled with ……

[Oh, this story is so complex, do I really want to go through this whole plot thing with you? ]

OK, just a little more.   The other world is filled with Spectres, figures that the children cannot see but that suck the life out of adults, leaving them still alive but no longer moving.   There on a hill is a tower, and inside is a crazy guy with a knife.  It is a very special knife and I am not telling you any more about it.

While in Will’s world, Lyra meets a physicist, and we learn they are studying dark matter, which seems to be the same as dust, elemental particles and the Spectres.  Quantum physics lite for the younger set and those of us who are a little fuzzy about it all.

I found this volume a little heavier going in the last third because it seemed to drift away from the world of YA into a deeper philosophical level more geared to adults, that of  Lord Asriel’s desire to mount a war on heaven because all became corrupt and evil in the world, and he wanted the world  to start over, with a new Eve.  There was more blood of a personal nature, more battles, more loss, more complexity.

We meet some angels, and a German scientist turned Shaman, and you really need to keep your wits about you to keep it all straight in your head as you compulsively turn pages late into the night to finish the book.


Now on to the third and final volume, The Amber Spyglass.


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