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"****... this book is every bit as compelling as its predecessor. Rife with high adventure, and inhabited by a dizzying array of witches, angels, animal daemons, magic and cruel villains, the series is unique in literature... Pullman is a remarkable writer and his trilogy seems destined to become a classic..."
--Detroit Free Press
"The Subtle Knife is... every bit its own stunning book and breathtaking at every turn..."
"Now that The Subtle Knife has been released, I'll come right out and state it baldly: incredibly, it's even better than the first book..."
"We can only wait impatiently for the third volume of the trilogy..."
--St. Petersburg Times
GAGNRÝNI / Washington Post Book World
In 1996 Philip Pullman brought out The Golden Compass, arguably the best juvenile fantasy novel of the past 20 years.... We are talking about a novel that can be mentioned in the same breath as such classics as A Wrinkle In Time, Tom's Midnight Garden and The Owl Service. Actually, Pullman's book is more sheerly, breathtakingly all-stops- out thrilling than any of them.
Best of all, The Golden Compass makes up the first part of a trilogy, suggestively, even ominously, titled "His Dark Materials." For the past two years readers have waited with desperate eagerness for its second installment... The Subtle Knife turns out to be -- hurrah! -- just as quick-moving and unputdownable as its predecessor. Moreover, it builds on the gaslight romantic adventure of the first novel and prepares us for a concluding volume of almost inconceivable cosmological grandeur: War In Heaven.
...Pullman conveys all this, and more, in clean, evocative prose, keeping the action moving at a fast clip, occasionally adding featherlight allusions to "Hamlet," Icelandic sagas, Paradise Lost, and all kinds of folklore...As a writer he can describe with equal vividness the particle research of an Oxford physics lab and the spooky artifacts of the Pitt Rivers ethnological museum... He particularly excels at character drawing...
--The Washington Post Book World , August 3, 1997
GAGNRÝNI / / Publishers Weekly
More than fulfilling the promise of The Golden Compass, this second volume in the His Dark Materials trilogy starts off at a heart-thumping pace and never slows down. On the run after inadvertently killing one of the sinister men who have been stalking his emotionally disturbed mother, Will, 12, hitchhikes to Oxford to seek information about his father, an explorer who vanished in the Arctic over a decade ago. As Will searches for a place to sleep, he stumbles upon Cittagazze -- a deserted city in another world -- accessible via a sort of magic gateway located (in one of the story's many witty mixes of the banal and the unearthly) near an ordinary traffic circle. Crossing into this peculiar place, Will encounters Lyra (heroine of the previous book), who had left her own world to find out what she can about the mysterious substance called Dust.
Will and Lyra (and Lyra's daemon) join forces and travel between worlds, performing a mind-boggling multidimensional burglary, uncovering the ugly secrets of Cittagazze and gaining hold of an ancient and powerful weapon (the subtle knife of the title).
Adding to the suspense are subplots involving Lyra's former companion, the Texan balloonist Lee Scoresby; the evil but beautiful Mrs. Coulter; the fierce Northern witch clans; and the mysterious Dr. Stanislaus Grumman.
As in The Golden Compass, the Arctic settings prove a strikingly original fantasy terrain. And where the first book hinted at a defective cosmology, this work develops that theme in terms of Judeo-Christian theology. Squeamish readers should beware: the narrative touches on such grisly topics as trepanning and genital mutilation. Nevertheless, the grandly exuberant storytelling is sure to enthrall.
--Starred review from Publishers Weekly, June 30, 1997
GAGNRÝNI / Kirkus Reviews
The powerful second installment in the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, which began with The Golden Compass (1996), continues the chronicling of Lyra Silvertongue's quest to find the origins of Dust -- the very stuff of the universe.
The first chapter is vintage Pullman: gorgeous imagery, pulse-pounding action, the baiting of readers' affections they meet Will, 12, who is trying to protect his emotionally fragile mother and to locate his lost father, an explorer who vanished years before. Instead, Will finds a window into another world, where Lyra and her daemon have also tumbled. That world holds the talisman of the subtle knife, which can cut through anything, even the space between worlds. It wounds Will, but he is bound to it by a destiny neither he nor Lyra (nor readers) yet understand.
The witches of Lyra's world, the scientists of Will's, the passionately evil Mrs. Coulter (Lyra's mother), and Lyra's champion Lee Scoresby seek the source of the disorder in the worlds and shimmering spaces that connect them. Angels that bless and Specters that eat the wills of adults appear; tantalizing glimpses of the past and future abound; the whole is presented in a rush of sensuous detail that moves and entrances.
Pullman has so intricately woven the textures of the two books that the outlines of the first are clearly recapitulated in the second, making it possible to read this one alone. But as it, too, ends in a tremendous cliffhanger, most readers will seek out the first volume while they eagerly await the third.
--Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1997
GAGNRÝNI / HORN BOOK
In this second book of the trilogy His Dark Materials, following The Golden Compass, the adventures of Lyra Belacqua continue, with the introduction of young Will Parry as a major protagonist.
Will comes from Oxford in our world; he is anxious to find his long-lost explorer father and struggles to protect his mother and some valuable papers from sinister men in black. He accidentally kills one and escapes through a window into a city, Ci-gazze, in a middle world where he joins up with Lyra. The two become friends and allies against a bewildering conglomeration of enemies. They are pursued for many reasons: they have both been prophesied to play leading parts in impending struggles of immense proportions; Will has become the owner of a knife of great powers, the subtle knife; and Lyra possesses the alethiometer -- the golden compass -- which can foretell the future and direct Lyra and Will to their unknown destinies.
Many characters from The Golden Compass reappear -- Mrs., Coulter continues her evil plotting in a moving episode; Lee Scoresby, the Texas aeronaut, is killed defending a lost hope to protect Lyra; Serafina Pekkala and her witches enter this middle world to lend aid to Lyra and Will. The intricacy of the plot is staggering; it is perhaps a retelling of Paradise Lost -- there are hints and portents that Lord Asriel, Lyra's father, is preparing to restage the revolt of the angels against God and that Lyra is destined to become the new Eve.
Although this volume is very much a book between the first and third -- and almost incomprehensible without having read The Golden Compass -- each of the players in this vast game is clear and distinct, and there is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating. Pullman offered an exceptional romantic fantasy in The Golden Compass, but The Subtle Knife is adding a mythic dimension that inevitable demands even greater things from the finale.
--September/October issue of The Horn Book
GAGNRÝNI / BOOKLIST
The epic adventure continues as the plot thickens in the second riveting book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, which began with the much heralded The Golden Compass, Booklist's Top of the List in youth fiction for 1996. This time, the story begins in our world with Will, a boy who escapes his pursuers by going through a window into another world, a world plagued by soul-sucking specters, where her encounters Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon.
The two youngsters join forces, moving between worlds searching for the mysterious phenomenon called Dust and for Will's long-lost father. By losing two fingers in a battle with a madman, Will becomes a warrior and the bearer of the subtle knife, which, like Lyra's truth telling alethiometer, is a talisman as well as a weapon, and, like Lyra, Will proves to be a pivotal figure in the looming battle for the universe.
Often the middle book in a trilogy is the weakest; such is not the case here despite some incidences of awkward explanations inserted as asides or as part of the narrative. It's the character development as well as the relentless pace on several fronts -- that of Will, Lyra, the witches, Will's father, and others -- and a couple of gruesome incidents that make this a resoundingly successful sequel. The cliff-hanger of an ending will leave readers desperate for the next installment."
--July issue of Booklist