Last Week on Inked Brownies

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philip Pullman

subtle knife

Kindle Edition, 326 pages
Published November 13th, 2001 (first published July 22nd, 1996)

Who else has seen The Golden Compass and wondered when on earth they would finally shoot the damn sequel? The movie was produced by New Line Cinema, who also made the LOTR- and Hobbit trilogy happen. The cast was great. The CGI was up-to-date. It had everything going for it, yet still failed in the Box Office numbers. I remember seeing it in the cinema and thinking that it wasn’t the greatest movie ever, yet still, I would’ve loved to see what would happen next to Lyra and Philip Pullman’s world of worlds.

There are many theories on the how and why the series failed as a movie adaptation. One of them is the heavily cutting down on religious aspects which are so important in the books. Apart from the Church (or Magisterium) being all powerful in the first book, I didn’t remember it to be very present. However, looking back at my review of it, my last paragraph stated:

“Without revealing too much spoilery stuff, I thought the end conclusion (of this part that is) and reference to the bible was a bit odd. I read reviews here mentioning Philip Pullman is an atheist and the ‘His Dark Materials’-series is an attack on Christianity and/or God himself. Even if that were true, I refuse to look for clues while reading the rest of the series. This is a story and should be read as a story. Period. Now, on to the next one!”

Yeah…I didn’t need to look for clues at all in ‘The Subtle Knife’. I have never experienced so much atheism thrown into my face like a yucky porn scene gone wrong. I mean, sure, you can still look at it as a children’s book when you are a child yourself, probably. But anyone past the age of 12 can probably tell you there is a not so hidden message in this one.

~Goodreads Synopsis~

“In this stunning sequel to The Golden Compass, the intrepid Lyra finds herself in a shimmering, haunted otherworld—Cittagazze, where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and wingbeats of distant angels sound against the sky. But she is not without allies: twelve-year-old Will Parry, fleeing for his life after taking another’s, has also stumbled into this strange new realm.On a perilous journey from world to world, Lyra and Will uncover a deadly secret: an object of extraordinary and devastating power. And with every step, they move closer to an even greater threat–and the shattering truth of their own destiny.”

The general plot was good. It’s a unique kind of fantasy. There are no elves, gnomes, goblins or wizards in this one. The magical elements were also quite different from what I’m used to. There is magic, yet it comes more in the form of physics and shamanism. Being surrounded by physics-lovers for the past five years, plus having started to study it myself as a BSc Environmental Sciences student, I was really intrigued to read about the parallels between dark matter and Pullman’s ‘Dust’. Then there’s a knife which can cut through the fabric of spacetime. Or well, something close to it. So fascinating!

If you’ve started to snooze off here, you can wake up again. There are plenty of action scenes, which require some imagination due to the aspects mentioned above, but oh my! Imagine you’re on the run from some eerily evil people and you can just cut yourself a window to a parallel world. You will have to make sure to close it again by hand before the others can follow you through it, though. Yoikes!

Then there are the creepy Specters as mentioned in the synopsis above. I’m guessing it’s a metaphor for the death of innocence after reaching adolescence, but when you’re just looking at it with a blank mind, it’s downright scary. As soon as you reach a certain point in growing up, your soul is going to be sucked right out of you. And then you die…

If that thought wasn’t depressing enough, here comes the atheism! Nothing wrong with atheism in itself, but to write a children’s book in which some of the main characters are going to attempt to kill God with the help of some fallen angels…it was a little too much for me. There’s a long scene in which the Latvian witch queen flies high up into the sky and travels with the angels there, who are on their way to create an army to destroy the Authority/God. This is where I was like, mkay, this is some pretty deep shit. Wikipedia mentions that “Pullman’s publishers have primarily marketed the series to young adults, but Pullman also intended to speak to both older children and adults.” I think they should’ve probably aimed it towards adults primarily or cut out the heavy religious scenes for the children.

To sum things up, I liked the first book more and can tell anyone else who hasn’t read part two yet that you shouldn’t expect any armoured fuzzy polar bear action in this one. It’s way more intense, not just religion-wise but also when it comes to the number of deaths. It’s like George R.R. Martin took over in that aspect. Holy shit! (pun intended)

It’s hard to rate this one because of the mixed feelings I encountered, but because I gave the first book 4 brownies, I’ll give this one 3. I can still recommend as well. Just don’t use it as a bedtime story to read to your children.
I’m very curious about what the third book will be like and how it all comes together in the end.

This song was on my mind while reading about the Specters:


Links to the book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

About Anne (231 Articles)
Dutch book reviewer who reviews in English. Grammar nazis beware!! I like brownies. And chamomile tea.

10 Comments on The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philip Pullman

  1. Awesome… I liked The golden Compass… I have to admit though, I watched the movie, I haven’t read the series. boo me
    You do make interesting points though, so I feel I should pick those books up… hmmz…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bookheathen // 17/02/2016 at 16:20 // Reply

    The Golden Compass (movie) was disappointing. There was certainly some criticism from the Roman Church, which didn’t help the ratings I guess, but I just don’t think the makers captured the magic of it all. Maybe their hearts weren’t in it.
    I have reviewed all three books somewhere on WordPress and devoted nearly a whole chapter of ‘It’s a Fantasy World’ to it. For me, the books are among the greatest fantasy novels of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I read the book, I noticed there was so much more to it than in the movie. I believe the movie was heavily edited in the hopes of reaching the same success as LOTR, yet it utterly failed in doing that. I thought the whole movie was rather bland compared to the book, actually.
      I’ve been searching your site but couldn’t find them. I’d love to read your take on the books, especially if you’re such a big fan of them! If you can find the link(s), that would be awesome!


  3. mybookfile // 17/02/2016 at 17:33 // Reply

    I have seen the movie and I liked it because well it was a movie and there was fighting talking polar bear… I mean come on. But though I loved the first book, the second book was somewhat disappointing because I had expected so much more…

    Liked by 1 person

    • The second book was just really different. How’s the Amber Spyglass coming along? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • mybookfile // 17/02/2016 at 20:57 // Reply

        It’s just… There hahaha sometimes there are some aspects that really irritate me and others are quite interesting. I’m halfway there and still sick so I’ll probably finish it tomorrow ^^

        Liked by 1 person

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