The second book in the His Dark Materials
trilogy by British writer Philip Pullman
. Unlike Northern Lights
, the opening part of the trilogy
, (or The Golden Compass
for you Americans) The Subtle Knife opens up in our world as we are introduced to Will Parry
, a twelve year old who goes on the run, searching for his missing father, after he accidentally kills a man who has broken into his home. Will makes his way to Oxford
and stumbles upon a window into another world. In this world Will finds himself in the seemingly deserted city of Citàgazze and meets Lyra Silvertongue
the heroine of Northern Lights
who has also found herself in Citàgazze after leaving her own world. Unbeknownst to the two of them the world of Citàgazze is infested with Spectres
, soul-devourers who prey upon adults but are invisible and harmless to pre adolescent children.
Together Lyra and Will from an uneasy alliance that soon blossoms into mutual trust and understanding. The two of them return to our own Oxford, where Lyra's alethiometer is stolen from her, and she discovers she is not the only refugee from her world to be in our Oxford. Meanwhile several of Lyra's friends and enemies from the Northern Lights make their way into the world of Citàgazze, and the fate of Will's father is slowly revealed. Will and Lyra return to Citàgazze, where Will comes into possession of The Subtle Knife, a knife that can cut doorways into other worlds, and a prize that many seekers from many worlds are keen to claim for themselves.
This is an an excellent book, and the character of Will is an excellent foil to Lyra, he is as brave and courageous as her, even though he has no visible daemon. The portrayal of Lyra flapping and toiling in our world in contrast to her self-assuredness she had in Northern Lights further warms us to her character. This is a more elaborate book than Northern Lights, with characters moving from world to world, which in a nice touch the books interprets by having a small illustration in the margin of each page representing which world the characters are currently inhabiting (a tree for Will's world, a compass for Lyra's and a knife for Citàgazze.) If it suffers from anything it is being exactly what it is, a middle chapter with no real ending. But it sets the scene for The Amber Spyglass the last part of the triology, and the His Dark Materials trilogy is in my view the finest fantasy writing since the Sandman.