This is the third and final volume of the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy. The first is The Golden Compass, and the second is The Subtle Knife. This series was written as a YA work, but it is somewhat dark and definitely has adult themes. Perhaps these days we would call it a New Adult work.
In this last of the series, Lyla has been abducted by her wicked mother, who somehow undergoes a sea change and is now a fully loving parent, trying to save her daughter from the clutches of the two vicious branches of the church, who want to kill the girl before she falls into temptation and changes the universe.
Lyla’s father Lord Asriel, is gathering forces to wage a total war on the Authority, whom everyone believes is the one who created the world. He has invented a pretty terrific flying war machine with which to attack the Clouded Mountain, the citadel of the Authority.
Meanwhile, two angels, Balthamos and Baruch, tell Will, the bearer of the Subtle Knife, that they are taking him to Lord Asriel. Will refuses to go until Lyra is rescued, to which the two assent. However, they are attacked by a soldier of the archangel Metatron, and Will uses the knife to cut a window into another world to escape. Baruch flies to Lord Asriel to tell him what has happened and to get help.
And meanwhile meanwhile, Mary, the physicist from Volume II has found an open window into another world, and gone through, and has encountered some elephantine creatures who call themselves mulefa and use large seedpods attached to their feet as wheels. These creatures have a complex culture, intricate language, and are quite welcoming to Mary. The mulefa can see the ‘dust’ particles, which are all blowing strongly away from their trees which produce the seedpods. Without the seedpods, which need the mulefa’s rolling them to break them open, both the ancient tree groves and the mulefa civilization will disappear. Mary cannot see the ‘dust’, but concocts some sort of amber resin sheets which she puts together and through which she can now see the dust particles. This is where the name of this volume comes from.
The most interesting part of this book is when Lyra and Will travel to the land of the dead to find her friend Roger who has died. They must take a boat ride across a river, and leave behind their daemons, which is a terrible wrench. This entire section is very symbolic, calling on the idea of the River Styxx and Charon the boatman, and in the land of the dead, harpies torment the deceased.
This is a complex story, hard to encapsulate in just a couple of paragraphs, so if you don’t want to read the series, or the book, I suggest you go to Wikipedia for the full plot.
Angels, daemons which are the physical representation of our souls, Greek mythology, strange sentient creatures, the many worlds theory of the universe, and a god who is simply an old ineffectual man — definitely a book for adults, and the entire series certainly worthy of the many awards and accolades it has received.