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

Title:  The Subtle Knife
Author:  Philip Pullman
Series:  His Dark Materials #2
Publisher:  Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Publication Date:  July 22, 1997
Pages:  326
Format/Source:  Paperback/Purchased

Age Group/Genre:  Middle Grade/Fantasy

Here is the highly anticipated second installment of Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy trilogy, begun with the critically acclaimed The Golden Compass. Lyra and Will, her newfound friend, tumble separately into the strange tropical otherworld of Cittàgazze, “the city of magpies,” where adults are curiously absent and children run wild. Here their lives become inextricably entwined when Lyra’s alethiometer gives her a simple command: find Will’s father. Their search is plagued with obstacles–some familiar and some horribly new and unfathomable–but it eventually brings them closer to Will’s father and to the Subtle Knife, a deadly, magical, ancient tool that cuts windows between worlds. Through it all, Will and Lyra find themselves hurtling toward the center of a fierce battle against a force so awesome that leagues of mortals, witches, beasts, and spirits from every world are uniting in fear and anger against it. This breathtaking sequel will leave readers eager for the third and final volume of His Dark Materials. (Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads)

*Warning:  This is the second book in a series.  While I really don’t like spoilers, you might find some slight Book 1 spoilers in this review.*

No Sophomore Slump…

Normally I really don’t enjoy the second book in a series.  They usually are the most boring to me, and they just kind of serve a purpose to get from the newness of the first book to the good stuff in book 3, especially in trilogies. For example, I LOVE all the Harry Potter books but The Chamber of Secrets was definitely my least favorite.  And don’t even get me started on New Moon.  So I wasn’t expecting to like The Subtle Knife as much as I did.  In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than The Golden Compass, which was a nice surprise.

Full of Action, Complexity, and Controversy…

If you’ve been around my blog a bit, you know that I LOVE action in books. Lots of action, suspense, and twists and turns are what make me really enjoy a book.  So I was really excited that The Subtle Knife seemed to have much more action than The Golden Compass.  Sure, The Golden Compass had action, but I really feel like The Subtle Knife just started off with action and kept up the suspense for most of the book.

I really enjoyed when they went back and forth from one world to another. And I love how, in Lyra’s world, there are consequences for Asriel opening the window to the other worlds.  I also really liked how the Dust is further explained in this book.  And I love how Pullman continues to make all the characters so complex, and many characters end up being not at all what they seemed at first.

I also definitely noticed a lot more of the religious controversy in this one, although it didn’t bother me.  That’s probably because I’m agnostic, and therefore I kind of enjoy reading books that explore different theories and maybe therefore are somewhat controversial for certain religions.  I don’t have anything against religion, I just don’t personally believe in all of that.  So I guess the controversial aspect of these books is interesting to me, but I can see why others might not enjoy this series because of that.

Great Quotes…

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from The Subtle Knife:

“But sometime during the next few months, Will realized slowly and unwillingly that those enemies of his mother’s were not in the world out there, but in her mind.  That made them no less real, no less frightening and dangerous; it just meant he had to protect her even more carefully.”

“Was there only one world after all, which spent its time dreaming of others?”

“In fact, a swirl of cloudy colors seemed to live just under the surface of the metal:  bruise purples, sea blues, earth browns, cloud grays, the deep green under heavy-foliaged trees, the clustering shades at the mouth of a tomb as evening falls over a deserted graveyard… If there was such a thing as shadow-colored, it was the blade of the subtle knife.”

“You think things have to be possible?  Things have to be true!

My rating for The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman:

Actually 4 1/2 stars.  I liked this one more than The Golden Compass, but it’s still not up there with my favorites.  But I’m looking forward to finishing the series!
Disclaimer:  I purchased this book myself.  I was not compensated in any way for this review.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the His Dark Materials Readalong, hosted by myself and Jessie from The Daily Bookmark, going on now!  Click the image below for more info!


  1. Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books

    October 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    "Don't even get me started on New Moon" lol. I hadn't read any of the Twilight books, or seen the first movie when I went to see New Moon. I enjoyed the movie so I went ahead and started reading the books and I hated New Moon. Definitely my least favorite. (On the flip side my favorite book, Eclipse, was by far the worst movie, apparently there is no happy medium).

    So glad the second one had lots of action for you! I'm a big fan of action myself. Great review!

  2. pagesunbound

    October 12, 2012 at 5:23 am

    From rereading The Golden Compass, I actually went back and rated the series a bit lower on Goodreads. After thinking about it, I decided the strongest feature really was the plot line and all the crazy twists–and it just didn't hold up to a second and third rereading because I already knew what would happen. A truly good book should improve upon rereading.

    I feel a little bad because I think I'm coming off a bit negatively towards the series. I really do like it! There are just parts that don't click for me, and the more I think about it the more it unravels. I did the same thing with "Summer of My German Solider." I loved it the first time around, but I basically thought myself into disliking it!

  3. fakesteph

    October 12, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Will shows up in this one, right? Sigh, Will is my FAVE. I think I developed a crush on a guy when I was reading this because he vaguely looked like the description of Will in this book (and his name was Will–perfect).

Leave a Reply

Want to include a link to one of your blog posts below your comment? Enter your URL in the website field, then click the button below to get started.