The Subtle Knife

Philip Pullman, Author Alfred A. Knopf $20 (352p) ISBN 978-0-679-87925-1
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 has 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 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. Ages 10-up. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/21/1997
Release date: 07/01/1997
Genre: Children's
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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