The Subtle Knife
The Subtle Knife is the second book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
At the end of Northern Lights, we left Lyra on the bridge from her universe to another. Now the author leaves us in suspense to introduce a new protagonist. Will Parry is a twelve-year-old boy who lives with his mother in OUR Oxford. When he disturbs and kills a burglar, he leaves home in search of his missing father, who is an explorer. By accident, Will climbs through a mysterious hole in the air and finds himself in Cittagazze, a tropical seaside universe inhabited by feral children, soul-eating spectres and zombie-like grown-ups. Lyra, we find, has reached Cittagazze too.
“As he stood wondering, the door burst open and something came hurtling at him like a wild beast … a girl about his own age, ferocious, snarling, with ragged dirty clothes and thin bare limbs.”
The two children join forces. Pursued by the evil Mrs Coulter and Sir Charles Latrom, a rich entrepreneur, Lyra and Will have to live on their wits to survive in this hostile world. Sir Charles steals Lyra’s alethiometer (the Golden Compass of the Hollywood film), and in order to recover it Will has to find the Subtle Knife, with which the bearer can cut windows into multiple universes. Without knowing it, the children have a special task to perform, one foretold in a prophecy, and on which the very survival of the Cosmos depends. Fortunately, they have allies. There is the witch Serafina Pekkala and her kin, who helped rescue Lyra and her friends from Mrs Coulter’s experimental facility in the Arctic. We meet again Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby, a friend of Lyra who hopes to find the mysterious shaman Stanislaus Grumman. And there is the Oxford physicist Mary Malone, whose specialty is elementary particles, which in Lyra’s world are called Dust.
Waiting meantime in the wings, and amassing his forces for a war to end war with the Magisterium , is Lord Asriel. He too wants the knife and sends two of his angel agents to bring Will to him in his mountain headquarters.
“Beneath this colossal fortress, fires glared and furnaces smoked in the darkness of early dawn …”
Although written, like Northern Lights, for children and young adults, The Subtle Knife is a novel to be enjoyed by all ages. It is filled with unforgetable characters, both human and fantastical. It is a book about growing up, about friendship and ultimately sacrifice. However, as in the first book, it also deals with some very adult themes and concepts. The ending prepares the way for the final volume in which (hopefully) all will be resolved to the reader’s satisfaction.