Friday, February 7, 2014

The Subtle Knife

The second volume in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy is entitled The Subtle Knife. This story picks up immeditely where the first volume, The Golden Compass, left off. The story has introduced us to a 12 year old girl named Lyra Belacqua, who prophesy has foretold is bound for greatness in bringing about the ultimate destiny of mankind. Yet Lyra is completely ignorant of any of this. She lives on an Earth-like world in a time equivalent to our world some several hundred years ago. She was once content to roam the grounds of Jordan College in England, where the elders were left in charge of this apparent noble-born orphan. At the end of The Golden Compass, we were left with the mysteries of something called dust that has either terrified or enraptured many people of power and to portals to other universes that had been opened by one Lord Asriel, who it turns out is Lyra's father. We come to see that Asriel is a power hungry megalomaniac, but the purposes for his research and his ceaseless drive are still unclear. Is it possible that there is something more altruistic in his nature? Lyra's mother, the beautiful and evil Mrs. Coulter, is equally as driven as Asriel, but she is content to suck the world dry and throw it out when she is done.

This story is a nice piece of writing. Like many a good sequel writer, Pullman further develops the settings and the characters that he has already introduced, but he also brings in new characters and allows them to play a significant role in quite an organic manner. In this story, we meet a boy named Will who is Lyra's age. His father, an expert explorer, disappeared when Will was an infant. His mother, who seems to be delusional, is quite often helpless. Yet in her few moments of lucidity, she tells Will that he is destined to pick up his father's mantle. We also learn that some men are determined to find some old papers that Will's father left behind. Soon it is clear that these papers contain information on the location of a portal to another world. Will meets up with Lyra and the adventure unfolds as their respective destinies entwine and lay out before them. The key seems to be a knife that can open portals between worlds, but this is only the beginning of what this knife can do. It seems that it also has the powers to bring supernatural beings to their knees, but the question is, to what purpose?. The adventure comes to a conclusion in the third volume, The Amber Spyglass, that I will dive into next.