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The Amber Spyglass

By Philip Pullman

Across all the different worlds, Dust has been changing over the past 300 years, and the worlds themselves have been changing rapidly ever since Lord Asriel tore the sky open. Forces gather from the different realms in preparation for a massive battle that seems to center on the fate of Dust, and the fate of the ultimate Authority, God himself. While the opposing sides marshal their battle strategies, life goes on. Mary Malone finds herself in the world of the mulefa, who depend on the giant seed pods that have recently begun to dwindle in number, threatening their survival as a species. Will and Lyra wander among worlds in search of the land of the dead and Lyra’s friend Roger. Mrs. Coulter follows her own agenda that leads her to Lord Asriel, back to the church, and even to the clouded mountain where the Authority lives. Meanwhile, Lord Asriel maintains a singular focus preparing for battle with the Authority. Somehow, all of these efforts center on Lyra and her freedom to make choices. A prophecy says she will be led into temptation, and her decision ultimately determines the fates of Dust, the Authority, and all the different worlds.

“The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman is the third novel in His Dark Materials series, preceded by “The Golden Compass” and “The Subtle Knife.” Pullman crafts a narrative that spreads across all three novels, building through each story and adding layers of complexity and understanding. Even the titles themselves reflect on this progression: Lyra is gifted the alethiometer in the first story, Will gains ownership of the subtle knife in the second story, and Mary builds the amber spyglass in the third story. Each device facilitates the ability of the characters, and subsequently the readers, to understand a bit more about both the forces that impact their lives and how they can impact the world around them. As the culmination of the storyline, “The Amber Spyglass” moves at a rapid pace to keep up with the discoveries of the different characters. Chapters are shorter and skip around between different characters, giving roughly a real-time account of what happens to different characters in their different worlds. Pullman also adds an element to the reading experience by beginning each chapter with a quote, offering paratext that foreshadows the coming chapter. “The Amber Spyglass” is a relentless and enthralling culmination to the series.

This book is long, but moves quickly. Although I tried to slow down more to contemplate Dust and all the various implications of Dust, I was pulled by the story and still probably missed a few things. I also probably missed some of the metaphors between His Dark Materials and Christianity/various biblical stories. Even without catching every last nuance, this novel and the series are highly engaging. It offers a fantastic perspective on what is possible, with an emphasis on subversion, deceit, and independence. I highly recommend not only reading this book, but the entire series. After reading the first two, it’s almost impossible not to read this one.

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The Subtle Knife

by Philip Pullman

Will doesn’t know quite why these strange and dangerous men are looking for him, but he knows it has something to do with his father’s mysterious disappearance 10 years ago. To keep his mother safe, he decides to run away and stumbles upon a window into another world, which happens to be the same world Lyra crossed into by the bridge created by Lord Asriel. At first they find the world uninhabited, but then find a group of children who explain that the adults cannot stay in the city because of the Specters. Children in this world cannot see the Specters, and are unharmed by them. The only defense the adults have is an ancient knife that holds unknown power, closely guarded by those in the society that developed it centuries ago. After fighting to protect the knife, Will ends up with the mark of the Bearer: two severed fingers. As Lyra and Will set out on their journey to find Will’s father, they are guarded by Serafina Pekkala and the witches in her clan. Unbeknownst to Lyra, they are followed by Mrs. Coulter and the army of Specters, closing in ever quicker as Lyra and Will move closer an closer to their goal.

“The Subtle Knife” by Philip Pullman is the second novel in His Dark Materials trilogy and the sequel to “The Golden Compass.” The storyline picks up immediately after “The Golden Compass” ends, maintaining the same sense of urgency in Lyra’s adventures and all the mystery of the Dust. Without divulging all the secrets of the Dust, Pullman offers a few answers about the purpose of Dust and why it is attracted differentially to adults and children. Pullman connects the different worlds not only by the windows and bridges across universes, but also by paralleling the geography, knowledge, and inexplicable changes across the worlds. The story centers on Lyra, even when it tracks the journeys of other characters including Lee Scoresby, Serafina Pekkala, and Mrs. Coulter. Each character has some personal connection to Lyra, or relates to Lyra through another character (such as Stanislaus Grumman). In this novel, Pullman again lets relationships unfold through Lyra’s perspective. Lyra’s inclination is  to start by trusting others, and when she is betrayed by them, she adjusts her plans accordingly to move forward with new knowledge of who is on her side and who is evil beneath the surface, which lays the foundation for the coming battle between knowledge and ignorance, good and evil.

Although I enjoy this book, I don’t quite enjoy it as much as the other novels in His Dark Materials. I appreciate gleaning new information about the Dust, but am also left with more questions about what it means, and how it relates to the Specters (and how that translates across worlds). I also felt that, for all the traveling Will and Lyra do across universes, there should have been some difference in the passage of time between worlds, yet they conveniently run along the same length of day and time of day. Complaints aside, this novel maintains the same pace of fantastic adventure as the first, and is well worth the read.

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