Third novel in Philip Pullman
's fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials
, completing the story told in The Golden Compass
and The Subtle Knife
. As with the others, it was marketed as a book for child
ren and young adult
s. While it's not inappropriate for young readers, it's beautiful and complex enough for adults. The large cast of characters is never handled haphazardly; all are developed with care and depth. The logic of the fantasy world is intriguing in itself, but never allowed to displace the novel's humanist concerns.Mild general spoilers below
, delimited by asterisks.
The final installment, larger and denser than the first two, sees Lyra and Will reunited. Both must struggle to balance committments to each other and to their comrades with the world-shaking missions that others force on them. These "others" include angelic hosts, the Church that rules Lyra's England, and an army preparing a second rebellion against God. We learn more about the golden compass
, the subtle knife
, and the msytery of "Dust," as well as the more generalizable mysteries of love
, and oneness
with the universe
Overall, an enthralling and sometimes moving novel. It's also action-packed
. My only complaint is that it's a little too
dense; Pullman seems to have been constrained by his format and forced two or three full novels' worth of plot and characterization into 500 pages. Nonetheless, it's a true book.
The Amber Spyglass is also an item within the story. more serious spoilers below
Created by physicist and seer Mary Malone, the Amber Spyglass is an instrument that allows humans to perceive Dust, also known as sraf
. Using it, one can differentiate sentient beings and their artifacts from animals and inorganic matter. It is also able to detect the great cosmological changes in Dust that have developed in the past 300 years. Materially, the spyglass is merely a device for polarizing and unpolarizing light, but when rubbed with a special psychotropic
oil (found in a universe where intelligent creatures live in symbiosis with a tree that produces the intelligence-increasing substance) it develops its spiritual properties.