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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass is the third book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The story is fun and provides a satisfying conclusion to the series. As the book opens, Lyra is being held by her mother in a cave. Mrs. Coulter keeps her asleep, and we learn that she has become attached to Lyra and wants to protect her, in her own way. Will is devastated at the death of his father, but two angels come to his assistance.

The angels provide background to Will and the reader. We learn that the Authority is an angel who has claimed God's name, and Lord Asriel and others have vowed to defeat him and declare a Republic of Heaven. This struggle ties the story to Paradise Lost, Milton's poem about Satan's struggle against God. Like Satan, Asriel and others are fighting arrogance and tyranny. The two angels wish to go to Lord Asriel's mountain stronghold to offer an alliance and information. Will refuses to go, instead insisting on finding and rescuing Lyra. One of the angels goes with him, and with Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear, they rescue Lyra. Will uses the subtle knife, but it breaks when he tries to escape. Fortunately, Iorek is able to repair the knife.

Meanwhile, Mary, the scientist they met in Will's world, comes to a new world where strange intelligent creatures called mulefa live. The mulefa tell her that the substance she knows as Dust has been dwindling and affecting their livelihood. Mary tries to find a solution to the ecological problem. But a priest from the Magisterium (which has rival factions) has entered the world to search for Lyra and prevent her from being tempted according to a prophecy.

The most fascinating person in the story is Mrs. Coulter. Captured by Lord Asriel, her loyalties are uncertain. She claims to love Lyra, then tells the Magisterium that she can't stand the girl and wishes she were never born. She uses her seductive powers to convince Asriel she is on his side, then steals an aircraft to fly it to the Magisterium. But they betray her and steal from her locket some of Lyra's hair to use for a bomb to kill her from far away. There follows a huge battle where Mrs. Coulter tries to stop the bomb from going off. Mrs. Coulter, despite all her devious plans and backstabbing appears to have come to truly love her daughter; whereas Lord Asriel is devoid of any human love and only sees Lyra as a part of his plans.

The central mission in the story is Lyra's desire to go to the land of the dead to visit Roger, the friend she rescued at the end of first book only to see him murdered by Lord Asriel. Using the knife and the golden compass, they find a way to the river that they must cross to reach the land of the dead. However, they must leave their daemons behind (Will learns that he has a daemon he cannot see). Throughout the three books, we have known the daemons as integral part of humans, and here the reader can feel the anguish in Lyra as she realizes what she must do. She must leave part of herself behind, making a betrayal as prophesied, a strong element of pathos.

The story wraps up the mysteries of the series pretty well. We learn about Dust and human history, about how the knife was made and its connection to the Specters. We learn about Lyra's destiny and why she and Will cannot live their lives together, despite falling in love. They must make a sacrifice that will improve their worlds, and all the worlds. Lyra and Will come to accept what they must do, even if it is tinged with sadness. The ending is not spectacular but it is good and satisfying. It brings the elements of the three books to a close. I appreciated how everything started to make more sense. Lyra ends the story with a view to her future, which she hadn't considered before. It is a fitting conclusion. B+

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