Audio Book Review: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)Publisher: Listening Library
Publishing Date: 
November 2003
Children, Fantasy
Audio Book (unabridged)

My rating:

4 of 5 hearts

The Subtle Knife is Book 2 of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and the audiobook is an unabridged version narrated by the author and performed by a full cast. Lyra has left her world and stumbled into a strange, adult-less city called Citagazze, where children run wild in the streets and are haunted by invisible ‘spectres’ – phantasms that feed on one’s soul. Here she meets Will, a fierce, determined young boy who has just killed a man in self-defence. Together, the pair overcome adversities, such as Lyra’s  alethiometer being stolen, and Will acquires and learns how to use the Subtle Knife – the sharpest knife in existence, and used to cut windows into other worlds.

The problem with this novel is that it feels like a filler novel. The entire time, even when something interesting was happening, I was always thinking, ‘And when is the real story going to start?’ It always felt like the problems in the novel – Lyra’s alethiometer, Will getting the knife and learning to use it, then the two travelling together and never reaching their destination – needed to be overcome before the novel proper could start. The writing is still superb, and the voice actor playing Will is a brilliant addition to the cast – as is the cast on a whole, the entire thing is beautifully performed – but I was always eager for the ‘real’ story to start.

Will is a fine partner to Lyra – a boy ever fiercer than herself, who’s smart, cautious, and introspective. He’s observant and wary of the world around him. He doesn’t bluster in and hope for the best, or rely on his wits to get himself out of tough situations like Lyra does: Will cautiously considers every prospect and safely chooses the best one, and only when forced will he fight like a devil to win at any cost. Another interesting character introduced in this novel is Mary Malone, a doctor of physics, studying dark matter. Her story was interesting, but it was frustrating that the conclusion was never reached – it will be concluded n the next book, The Amber Spyglass – but the whole novel feels like it was abruptly cut off, with little to no conclusion or even a climax.

So as you can see, I still loved this book even though it frustrates me. Personally I feel that if a reader does not want to invest in the entire series, each novel should be wrapped up to leave it at that particular point – even cliffhangers can work in this way, because the reader can imagine their own next instalment. But nothing is concluded in The Subtle Knife: it’s all a big set up for the massive volume of The Amber Spyglass. However, if you want to read the entire trilogy it’s a very good filler novel.

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About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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