The Subtle Knife

Philip Pullman

I remember when I first read these books years back, I didn’t enjoy The Subtle Knife as much as The Golden Compass, but it must have been misguided Lyra obsession. This book starts off with a whole new character and a new world (“our own world,” a note clarifies), which is kind of unexpected and jarring from the all-out fantasy of The Golden Compass. It only takes one chapter for Will to slip into the Spector-laden world of Cittàgazze and come across Lyra. Then we’re back following the strange events following the end of the first book.

I liked Will more this time, especially how his perspective puts Lyra in her place: “Don’t they have can openers in your world?” “In my world servants do the cooking,” she said scornfully.

While certain aspects of this book are establishing the scene for the final piece of the trilogy, it actually resists the middle-book-as-stepping-stone tendency. The story of the knife and exploration of its powers deserve the focus of an entire novel alone. I didn’t remember the Texan aeronaut being so important to the story either and developed a particular fondness for him.