Book – The Subtle Knife

Author – Philip Pullman

Year – 1997

Pages – 341

Genre – Fantasy

Series – His Dark Materials

The year before last, I started re-reading the His Dark Materials books having taken Northern Lights with me to Venice. This was in preparation for the start of the new TV series that had been announced. Well, over Christmas, as a house we watched the series, and there was plenty to love about it, and so I was enthused to pick up the next book in the series and read that.

Obviously, some spoilers ahead, but it is worth noting that the second book is where the character of Will is first introduced. Already featured in the TV series, it is interesting to see how the storyline that they show there is only really the basis for a very small part of the opening of book two. The Subtle Knife is as much about his journey as Northern Lights is about Lyra’s and as a result, expect his role to be much bigger in the next series on the TV.

Will is trying to escape some men who are desperately trying to find out information about his father – an explorer who went missing some twelve years ago. Through a stroke of good luck, he finds his way through a portal to a world where Lyra is now residing following the events of the previous book. He starts to help her, and she in turn realises that she needs to be helping him. As a part of this, Will must find the titular Subtle Knife – an amazing artefact that allows its bearer to cut through to one of the many universes that exist.

There are a couple of things that are great about this book. Firstly, I found it incredibly exciting. Alex read this book immediately before me (in fact, I lazily waited for her to finish it rather than dig out my own copy) and totally disagreed, suggesting it lagged and didn’t really pick up steam well. I however thought that it really rolls on apace, and it became increasingly a real page turner.

I also really enjoyed how there is a little symbol up in the top right hand corner of each page to denote which world it was that they were in. A small touch, but I really appreciated it and it gave the book a certain look that I quite enjoyed.

There is a flip side however, and this is Pullman’s writing style. It feels silly to criticise someone of his standing for his craft, but I found it a little with the first book, and even more so with this one. He shoehorns in things to make the plot work. A half remembered line about giving an address card is stuck in simply to allow Lyra and Will to have an address later. A subtle nod to a character’s identity becomes a clunky and obvious clue. These are all things that I am sure he should be capable of being above, and yet there they are, and compared to how interesting and exciting I found everything else, it was a bit of a disappointment.

It by no means meant that I did not enjoy this book though – indeed as I type this only one week removed from finishing the second book, I am on page 140 of the third one, and quite strangely that is having read another novel and a couple of plays in the meantime. Roll on the third book, and roll on the second series of the TV show.