You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife is the sequel to The Golden Compass, part of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In this book, Lyra finds a boy named Will Parry in a world that exists between the worlds they are from. Will shows her how he found a window from his world to the world of Ci'gazze, where Specters attack adults and leave them catatonic while leaving the children to fend for themselves. Will shows Lyra to his own world (more like ours) and she visits the Oxford there in an effort to learn more about Dust, which she learns is called dark matter. She is pleased to find a female scholar studying the subject and she helps her with the research. But Lyra is dismayed when a strange upper class man steal the compass.

But the primary story belongs to Will. Will is a prototypical hero in that he is (something like Lyra in the first book) searching for his missing father. However he lacks the appeal of Lyra to be a driving character. Whereas Lyra is brave, headstrong, and somewhat impulsive, Will is more reserved and careful. This does make them a good team. Part of the conflict is that Lyra can't accept that her mission is to help Will find his father instead of searching for her own. The golden compass tells her as much, but her unwillingness to follow through and instead continue her own search does not prove successful.

Lyra and Will approach the thief of the compass to get it back, and he promises to return it to them if they will retrieve a knife from the world of Ci'gazze that he desires. The knife turns out to be a valuable artifact. Acquiring it provides Will with great power but it also comes at a cost. The children of Ci'gazze become their enemies. The knife is a burden that Will must bear, and using it becomes painful. He uses the knife to cut a window between worlds and retrieve the compass for Lyra. Yet they learn that Lyra's mother is allied with the thief, bringing the evils of the first book into this one.

As the plot unfolds, we learn that there is a man plotting to wage war against the creator god, known as the Authority. Pullman brings in myths about heavenly wars and angels. Most of this is background rather than direct action, though this is fitting for a middle volume of a trilogy. However I was still left a little empty at the end, without seeing Will and Lyra accomplish an important goal. Will's search is satisfied, but only briefly. Lyra is still relegated to the background as Will's helper. Yet overall it is a satisfying story. The tension builds as we learn more about traveling between worlds, the building war against the Authority, Will's father, and the powers of the knife. The story comes together, yet there still enough conflict left for the next book. B

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