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The Subtle Knife (1997)

The Subtle Knife (1997)

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4.08 of 5 Votes: 3
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0679879250 (ISBN13: 9780679879251)
knopf books for young readers

About book The Subtle Knife (1997)

The Subtle Knife which is the second volume in His Dark Materials trilogy fails to live up to the first installment.In Nothern Lights (or The Golden Compass, as it was titled in the US) readers were treated to a rich alternative universe. It was clear that the Philip Pullman had an active imagination and was good at constructing his worlds just as any good fantasy author.That's one of the reasons why I didn't enjoy this volume as much as the first one. As it was stated that the books will take place in several universes, I hoped that each of them will be as richly drawn as the first one. It wasn't. Most of the elements that made Northern Lights so enjoyable (the Gyptians, the panserbjörne - the armored polar bears, how can something be more awesome?) are all dropped and nothing equally interesting is introduced in their place. The world-building comes to a halt, and it doesn't help the series.Lyra Belacqua, the brave and cocky protagonist all but disappears and takes a supporting role to Will Parry, a 12 year old boy who takes the lead. Thanks to a happy coincidence their worlds meet, and the two form a team.Lyra (who was so proud and morally independent in the first installment) becomes subservient almost immediately after their meeting, because she learns through her Alethiometer that the boy is a murderer. Oddly, this makes Lyra feel safe - why she doesn't suspect that the boy might hurt her is never entirely clear. Gone is too the intimate connection between Lyra and her Daemon, which allowed us to see her own inner doubts and disagreements. Pantalaimon plays a minor role in this installment, and all he has to say are a few lines of unrevealing dialogue which adds absolutely nothing to the plot and the characters.The Alethiometer, which helped Lyra achieve her goals in the first volume, now almost seems to set them. It's eerily reminiscent of a certain notebook from another well known franchise. You must excuse this rather poor pun, but the novel is far from subtle. All of the moral complexity and religious questioning from Northern Lights is dropped, and there's no longer any doubt about what Dust might be, or what are Lord Arsiel's and Mrs. Coulter's intentions. It seems as if Pullman came up with well-crafed fantasy in the first volume and then decided to toss in some anti-religous content just for the pure sake of doing so. He doesn't bring up any sort of polemic or interesting, challenging questions which would make reader think about what he has to say. It's not intelectually stimulating in any way, especially considering that the series is aimed at younger readers - his absolute lack of subtlety and metaphor doesn't allow for any doubt about his belief. You can't ask a child "what do you think is the author's stance on the Authority, the Magisterium? Do you think he's right? Do you think he's wrong?" because of the obviousness of the answer. Look at this:"I know whom we must fight. It is the Magisterium, the Church. For all its history– and that's not long by our lives, but it's many, many of theirs–it's tried to suppress and control every natural impulse.""That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes, and the Church is on one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies we find ourselves bound to."""Oh, there is more suffering to come. We have a thousand years of experience in this Church of ours. We can draw out your suffering endlessly."That's pretty much a good summary of how the book tackles the issues. One would expect somewhat more subtlety, grace and thought would be put into questioning them, being as big as they are. Unfortunately that's not the case here.Lyra and Will's adventures are rather dull and boring, and the characters seem to be unchanged by the experience. The whole thing feels cold and calculated, as if the author changed his mind about letting children discuss and discover the benefits and danger of religion on their own. Instead, he chose to throw in his real-life opinions at them with the arfullness of throwing a brick into someone's face. The whole thing feels cold and calculated, and never recaptures the feel of the first installment. I will still read the final volume, so maybe my opinion about the series will change, because it has significantly dropped.

Notice: I have made a review for every book of this trilogy and they need to be read in order since they are supposed to feel like an on-going impression. So if you read the second without reading the first will feel rather off. I am mostly focusing on the style of storytelling and a lot less on if it reads well or something sophisticated like that. For the same reason I tend to have lots of SPOILERS which means that if you read this text you will know THE OVERALL PLOT and how much I DIDN’T like it. So be warned that this is a mostly negative opinion for the whole trilogy which tends to reveal in detail why I didn’t like it. Better be read after you have read the books or if you want to avoid a not-so-great fantasy trilogy. YOU HAVE NOW BEEN WARNED and I can now initiate the slaughter. --- The Subtle Knife, the second book of His Dark Materials. --- The first left me with good impressions about the story but bad about the plot. The second follows as such.Lyra is now in a parallel world where she meets Will, a boy from our world, and they are in a third world, empty of people. Man, that was such a thriller; nothing like the feeling of the first book; very exciting start. Then we learn Lyra is the chosen one that will bring a big revolution. OH GODS, I hate the chosen one routine; such a cheap trick to give importance to otherwise normal people. Religion is evil. We are not allowed to think not even for a second it ain’t. Too direct and one sided that becomes stupid. Birth of a Nation, the clergy version. Lyra goes with Will to our world and it was funny to see how things look different or have other names in each dimension. That compass is so hax, it now tells Lyra exactly what to do and even how to do it. Yeah, go on scriptwriter, tell her what to do with your compass since you are incompetent at figuring out any other way. And what’s this? She meets a female scientist who immediately explains EVERYTHING??? That is so forced and fake; JUST SHOW IT! Man, this form of info-feed sucks and being used all the time like this will eventually tire anyone. A good book needs to be visualized, like it can be turned into a movie or a theatre play. How is it possible to do that in this case where everything is revealed with talking and not showing? Major mistake there mr. author.As if the compass wasn’t hax enough, now the two kids got themselves a super knife that allows them to cut anything they like and even jump worlds anytime they want. All the means to know how to do all that were again offered through blah-blah.Oh great, now even a computer is talking and ordering people what to do. Yes mr. author, we understand how incompetent you are at making them figure out things without telling them yourself. And what a surprise, Will finds his long lost father who immediately tells him many blah blah explanations and gets MURDERED AS SOON AS HE FINISHES. What`s wrong mr. author; he was no longer important to the plot so you finish him off just like that? The book ends rather interesting, with the fallen angels assuming the roles of the good guys but the terrible infodumping just ruined all the fun.

Do You like book The Subtle Knife (1997)?

Way back at the end of November/beginning of December of good ol' 2007, I read Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Why? Well, because there was all that talk about how it got made into a movie. I read the book, and found it very thought provoking. As for the movie it's a watered down version of Pullman's work, but not bad for the most part. I mean, I don't think it would go over too well with audiences who haven't read to book to know that Lyra's friend Roger is killed by Lord Asreil and that
—Candace Wynell McHann

It gets progressively worse as the need to hit the reader of the head with the fact that religion is evil becomes greater than that of telling an actual story. The plot makes so little sense it makes me cringe. First of all, why isn't anybody trying to fight the evil evil wicked oppressive nondescript all-encompassing, but probably 17th century Catholic Church inspired Church? I mean, it doesn't make any sense - everybody knows the Church are a bunch of deviant charlatans, yet nobody tries to question their authority, instead they build fantastic, world cutting machines which cause global warming and kill each other all the time in an attempt to kill 'the Authority', when it's obvious that whether or not He exists, the Church will carry on being a meanie. Why is Reformation completely unheard of in Lyra's world? I'll tell you why, because even a shadow of sense would've destroyed the 'religion is the absolute evil' theory that Pullman feels the need to implant in our brains. You know what else doesn't make any sense? The fact that there are millions of worlds, but everybody only ever travels between three. I'm willing to buy the idea that every window you make in any world makes you end up in Cittàgazze - but that every window you make from there only takes you to Will or Lyra's world is absurd. I feel like Pullman had absolutely no plan when he started to write this book so in the last 3/4 he had to come up with all kinds of ridiculous plot twist to tie it all together.I'm disappointed too that the Dust subplot get sucked up into some kind of pseudoscientific explanation (what kind of scientific equipment works controlled via electrodes by somebody's brain? RIDICULOUS) where it died. I won't comment on the many misunderstands and prejudices about different cultures which are present throughout the book because I could rant about that for ages.

There is a kind of paradoxical element to writing: you must write with an agenda or else risk having no structure and content to your work, however if you write with too much of an agenda your work becomes rigid and inflexible. I mused on this idea about halfway through this book last night. I find Philip Pullman to be both writing in places with too strong an agenda (i.e. to recreate Paradise Lost as he understands it and from an atheistic perspective - some have also mentioned the whole anti-Narnia element) and too weak an agenda (I found myself questioning whether this book actually had a plot except to send its child characters running around from world to world, questioning moral and scientific principles...all of which is dull and listless to read in places).The Subtle Knife continues on from the previous book in His Dark Materials, and introduces Will as a boy from our world who has escaped from a murder he may have caused. He runs into Lyra Silvertongue and events start to happen as they seek to find out the nature of the worlds around them to do with God and angels and demon spectres etc. But the issue is it's all rambling and disjointed and (as I just wrote in another review) lacks the payoff along the way. I want to clarify that it's not a purely academic disinterest I have in Pullman's work here. I'm not against him for being atheist. I know plenty of intelligent, thoughtful atheists and I always wish to engage in rationalised discourse on the subjects presented in this book. I do, however have an issue with Pullman taking Christian concepts, ridiculing them and then presenting them in a poor mishmash of fantasy that he claims is better than Narnia for whatever reason. At least Narnia has a clearer structure to it and not just some cool fantasy ideas...

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