Book Review: the Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

Continuing on after finishing the Golden Compass, I just finished the Subtle Knife (Young Adult Fantasy 326 pages) by Philip Pullman yesterday. I don’t really think I’m going to go too in-depth into it for a variety of reasons, but here’s what I thought.

It’s with this installation in the series that I finally start to see why these books may have been rejected by some for their perceived anti-Christian content. The Subtle Knife has a lot of things going on that go against many normal trends. For instance, this book introduces the character of Will, who commits a murder in the very first scene. Will is only twelve years old and he’s willing to conduct some pretty serious actions to keep his mother safe. I don’t say I disagree, because the character is true to the actions that he would honestly take. We see a young man who loves his mother very much, but is smart enough to realize what will happen to both of them if anyone finds out that she’s not entirely all there.

When Will and Lyra meet, we start to see conflicts of interest between the two, but as readers engrossed in the story and the characters, I think we get frustrated that the two don’t understand how mutually supportive both of their goals are. In some ways, this book is actually slightly aligned with strategy on a massive level. We as the readers are seeing this massive campaign being planned and launched and we’re starting to see some of the moving pieces and how everything fits together, but at the same time, we see how all big events are just a cumulation of a whole bunch of small events revolving around individual people. It’s very difficult to see bigger plans and options when you’re knee-deep in what’s happening to you right at that very minute. I think Pullman achieves a good balance between the two.

It seems to me that there are a lot of adult themes in this story. I’m not entirely comfortable with this being a young adult series, given all the concepts and general big picture kind of stuff that’s going on. If I were looking at this book from a less neutral perspective, I can see how certain people might think that this series is almost telling kids that murder is okay. When Lyra and Will meet, the fact that he’s a murderer actually makes her more inclined to trust him as a companion. I’m not certain what kind of message that sends to any kids who might actually want to take a message out from that. Don’t get me wrong – kids are smart. But at the same time, maybe not all of them are quite as “grown up” as they think they are.

Another thing I noticed was that this book didn’t really have a solid ending at all. It’s clearly part of a much larger work and a book that cannot stand on its own. This is interesting to me because my series is designed the same way. I’m looking at adjusting the end of Accept Fire and Blood to have a more solid and individual ending and I think after reading a book like this that has an absolutely clear non-ending that it might really be a better idea for me to give my book a much less ambiguous ending.

See? You really do learn things about writing when you read 🙂

Overall, I think this is an interesting series, but not one I’m getting emotionally attached to. I’ll see how the final book goes before I give all the rest of my comments.

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About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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