Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife

Philip Pullman
Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Random House, 1997   ISBN: 978-0679879251

Will Parry's life has never been easy. When Will was just a baby his father disappeared during an expedition in Alaska and Will was left in the sole care of his mother, who is very unstable. Terrified that he and his mother will be separated by the authorities, Will has kept her fragile mental state a secret, and has taken care of her since he was little more than seven years old. Things go well enough until the day when the men begin to come to Will's house. They pester his mother, asking her questions and upsetting her. Then they search the house when Will and his mother are out. Will decides that the best thing to do is to ask his former piano teacher to watch his mum while he tries to find out what happened to his father.

After he drops off his mum at the piano teacher's house, Will goes back to the house, eats something, and goes to bed. In the early hours of the morning the men break into the house again and begin to search it. Will is pretty sure that they are looking for his mother's green briefcase. He does not know what is in the case, but he knows that she treasures the contents. Carefully Will gets the briefcase and then he does his best to get out of the house without getting caught. During his escape one of the men falls down the stairs and is killed. Now Will not only has to run from the men, but he also has to run from the police.

Will goes to Oxford and there, quite accidentally and with the help of a cat, Will sees a window which leads into another world. Quickly he goes through the window and he finds himself in a city which appears to be deserted. It is only when he goes into a house to find some food that he discovers that he is not the only one taking refuge in the city. He meets Lyra, a girl who has herself come from another world. Lyra has a daemon, a familiar which can change shape, and she carries a peculiar compass-like object around with her. She tells him that she is trying to find out about "Dust," an elementary particle that she has heard about.

Lyra and Will join forces ,and while Will tries to find out about his father, Lyra seeks a "scholar" in Will's world who might be able to tell her about Dust. Their search becomes very dangerous and complicated when the men who came to Will's house resurface, and when Lyra's golden alethiometer is stolen. The man who has it will only return the precious object if Lyra and Will get him something from a town in Cittagazzea, the city where Will and Lyra met. Apparently Cittagazzea is haunted by creatures called Specters who suck the life out of adults. The only people left in the place are children, and they alone can safely move around the city.

Will and Lyra meet the children in Cittagazzea and quickly recognize that they are not going to be allies, in fact they are quite the contrary. At great cost Will and Lyra enter the tower andthey procure the object the man who stole the alethiometer wants. It is a knife, the subtle knife, and, among other things, it can cut open doorways between worlds, . The man who tells them about the knife explains that Will, its new "bearer" must not, under any conditions, give the knife away. TLyra and Will are going to have to steal the alethiometer back and the knife will help them do it.

Once they get the alethiometer back, Lyra dedicates herself to helping Will find his father. It is the least she can do after everything he has gone through for her sake. Little do they know that evil forces are gathering against them and what they have endured so far is just the beginning.

In this second book in the Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman weaves a captivating story which will leave readers anxious to read more as quickly as possible. We learn that Lyra is not just any girl; her birth was prophesied and much rests on her thin little shoulders. We discover, as the story unfolds, that Will and Lyra's quests are tied together, and that a great battle is looming, one which could, if the wrong side wins, mean the triumph of evil over good.

Splendidly written and full of power and imagery, this is a title that readers will think about long after they have read the final page.