The Subtle Knife (1997)

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman Book Review…………………………………………………..

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman Book Review

The Subtle Knife is a 1997 fantasy novel written by Philip Pullman. It is a very good sequel, yet never as great as the original novel.

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It’s like having to make a choice: a blessing or a curse.

The one thing you can’t do is choose neither.

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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman Book Review…………………………………………………..

As the second entry in the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Subtle Knife ultimately disappointed me as it just wasn’t as compelling nor as fantastical as its predecessors. Whereas ‘Northern Lights’ was magical and filled with memorable imagery, this one is set in a different and unfortunately much less interesting world.

Lyra ends up in the new realm and meets Will who came there accidentally after killing a man who chased him. His father has connections to Dust and Lyra’s scientists and he is after him and the two join forces in attaining the compass Lyra lost and later gaining the possession and power of the titular knife. That is the plot here and, needless to say, it is never really fascinating, albeit still very well told. I liked the ending and although abrupt and too much like a second part of a trilogy ending, it was still memorable, dark and tragic. Actually the entire second half of the novel was quite tragic and serious when you think about it.

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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman Book Review…………………………………………………..

The highlights were the first couple of chapters which were very well written and exciting. It was great meeting Will and this new world. Of course everything with the knife and alethiometer was also memorable and I really liked the character of Charles Latrom who was a compelling villain. And naturally Mrs. Coulter continues to be a strong, dangerous presence when villains are concerned.

I really disliked the fact that almost the third of the novel was told from the perspective of Lee, the witches, Gruman and others. Those chapters were very dull, uneventful and just never as interesting. I get the decision to have other points of view and other storylines on the side, but to me the villains should have gotten that spot along with this time entirely absent Lord Asriel and that would have been infinitely more interesting.

But I still really liked Gruman and his death was unexpected and very dark. Having Will lose his father just after he’s found him was a bold and ultimately admirable choice on the part of the author. And of course Lee’s death was just so immensely tragic. I really like him as he is such a sweet soul which is why his death felt heartbreaking and that emotion was very much earned.

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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman Book Review…………………………………………………..

But the kids are naturally the standout characters. It was odd that Lyra made so many mistakes this time around whereas she was such a heroic lead in the previous entry, but she was still realistic, tough and very likable in her flawed personality. And as for Will, he was too much of a flawless kid in my opinion, but I still rooted for him and I found the friendship that formed between the two very satisfying.

The Subtle Knife is very well written by Philip Pullman and the descriptive passages are excellent. The dialogue is also solid. But this time around the imagery was just not up to par with its predecessor. I found the fact that all of the worlds were different, yet mostly quite similar interesting, but ultimately a cheap method of storytelling and world building.

Cittagazze was intriguing at first, but the spectres were very typical creations in my opinion, unoriginal and not particularly interesting, at least not to me. The knife itself was, on the other hand, very interesting and I liked its usage and that it cut the portals to different worlds. That led to a lot of very interesting action.

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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman Book Review…………………………………………………..

Even though the book is great in many of its parts and quite suspenseful at times, it isn’t particularly sophisticated and it is never coherent or as well crafted as a whole and a sum of its admittedly very good parts. That is because the structure is odd and unappealing. The book consists of important parts, dialogues and action, but almost every one of them felt unnatural and more of a succeeding coincidence than a natural plot progression. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked this book a lot, but it just was never as great as ‘Northern Lights’ was.

The Subtle Knife has more than a couple of memorable and suspenseful parts, it is very dark and tragic at times, the character development is strong and it is mostly well crafted, but it isn’t great as a whole because the structure isn’t the greatest, some chapters were tedious and uneventful plus the world building is never as majestic or as magical as it was before leading to a good, yet a bit disappointing sequel.

My Rating – 4

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