Audio Book Review: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, #3)Publisher: Listening Library
Publishing Date: 
September 28 2004
Children, Fantasy
Audio Book (unabridged)

My rating:

4 of 5 hearts

The Amber Spyglass is the third and final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy and tells the closing chapter of Lyra and Will’s tale – and also that of Dr Mary Malone, a few random miniature spies that ride dragonflies, Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel, a pair of gay angels, and a priest who sets off to murder Lyra. It’s a big cast, but that’s okay, because it’s an epic fantasy.

It’s a huge story, and frustrating at first because the whole thing is handed over to Will, our resident Gary-Stu who is amazing at everything and a perfect match for Lyra. Our formerly kick-ass barbarian child is in an enforced slumber courtesy of Mrs Coulter, and Will must rescue her before he does anything else, like lend his awesome magical knife skills to Lord Asriel’s army in an attempt to overthrow God.

The thing that annoys me the most about this book is that Pullman has clearly tried to create a world where religion is evil and all that, but it’s not an atheist book like so many are led to believe. There is a God, there is an afterlife, there are angels – it’s simply that nothing is how the modern Christian church has led anyone to believe. To be a truly atheist novel there would be no God, or afterlife, or anything like that.

Mrs Coulter’s character comes alive with all kinds of intriguing backstabbing conniving wiliness. She’s an amazing character, and one I never truly appreciated before this. It’s so hard to cast her in shades of black and white when she’s clearly (now, to me) all kinds of grey. It’s not as simple as her love for Lyra redeems her, because we clearly see her behaving in a non-loving manner towards Lyra. She’s a very complicated character and a lot of the time I couldn’t tell if she was telling the truth or not. Did she really love Lyra? Were her intentions really honourable?

As for Lyra and Will – well I don’t think it’s a very good love story. For a start they are only twelve or thirteen, way too young for an epic kind of love that supposedly saves the worlds. Romantic love is a very grown up concept because adults have mature bodies and minds. Lyra and Will have only just hit puberty. They feel shy around each other on occasion because their bodies are changing but then all of a sudden it’s BAM “We’re in love and it’s so awesome and epic that we just saved the multiverse just by being ourselves and doing normal things, nothing out of the ordinary here.” I don’t buy it, and I feel that the solution to the worlds ending (or at least free will/consciousness) is to have two unique special children fall in desperate love so strong that… well it’s not really described. Somehow their love stops the Dust from leaving all the worlds and we’re just supposed to accept that ON BLIND FAITH. In an ‘atheist’ novel.

Yeah, right.

Look, whilst reading (or in my case, listening to) this novel, it is an amazing story. It’s beautifully written and you genuinely care for the characters. It’s afterwards that the whole entire build up seems rather anticlimactic. Lyra’s prophecy about betrayal is supposedly addressed but it seems pretty suss to me, and her other prophecy about being Eve and ‘falling’ to temptation also seems pretty cruddy. She does fall to temptation, basically, and like the previous Eve, it is a good thing. It saves the world. But no one is sure what her temptation would be or if she would fall. And while Lyra is a brilliant, original character who, although she is loved by everyone like a Mary-Sue, has some very bad points about her (the lying), Will is just too perfect and teaches her all about the world and looks after her and basically all of Lyra’s awesomeness flies out the window when she meets Will.

Overall it’s an enjoyable novel that wraps up the story in an unexpected and anti-climactic way. All of those promises we’ve been given fizzle out to nothing. The writing is beautiful, and the character development even more so, but the plot lacks an oomph, especially when compared to Northern Lights. It also seems that a lot of the novel is simply filler – the story of the priest who tries to murder Lyra is simply there to create further anxiety for the readers on behalf of our beloved blonde darling.

However the audio book itself is again a masterpiece. Pullman delivers the narrative in fine voice and the actors playing the cast are so filled with emotion and generally awesome in their performances that I cried on more than one occasion.

View all my reviews


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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