The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife
by Philip Pullman
368pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.23/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.18/5

The Subtle Knife is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and continues the story begun in The Golden Compass. The series is considered young adult fantasy, although it certainly has some themes that would be better appreciated and understood by adult readers. While The Golden Compass was interesting and worth reading, I did not find it to be anything exceptional, although I probably would have been enthralled by it had I read it as a child. I thought The Subtle Knife was a more engaging, better written and plotted story than The Golden Compass and I look forward to reading the concluding volume of the series.

The Subtle Knife continues the story of Lyra and introduces a new character, a child named Will who befriends Lyra. The story actually begins with Will, which I found annoying at first since I wanted to know more about what happened to Lyra, particularly since the previous book had ended on a very promising note. However, I ended up really enjoying Will’s character and the development of his friendship with Lyra.

Will is a child from our world who has had to grow up quickly since his mother has issues with paranoia and obsessive compulsiveness. Afraid that his mother will be taken away from him if anyone finds out what she is really like, Will does not make friends and tries to protect her. When Will finds that some suspicious men have been asking questions at his home, he is forced to flee to another dimension. He finds the town he is in abandoned except for Lyra and Pantalaimon, who have also wandered into this world. At first, Lyra is terrified of Will since he has no daemon, but she soon realizes that he does have a daemon after all even though it is not visible.

Will and Lyra soon find the adults have fled the town they are currently in because of the Specters, an apparition that leaves adults still and lifeless. Children cannot see the Specters and the Specters do not bother children, so there are many children still in this town. Will ends up being chosen as the bearer of a knife the Specters fear. This knife has some unusual powers, but nobody, even the creators of the knife, know how powerful it is except for one man who must find the bearer of this knife to tell him what he must do.

As is often the case with young adult books, this story is very plot-driven, although I felt it did a better job of developing the characters than the first book did. There was no great depth of characterization in this book, but the characters seemed less flat and there were a few key moments that brought out just what type of person they were. Characters tend to very clearly fall into a “good” or “evil” category, with one or two exceptions. I’ll be interested in seeing what Pullman does with some of these characters in the final volume of the trilogy.

This book was shorter than The Golden Compass, but I thought this was a good choice. The plot moved along very well with fewer words and I thought the pacing of the story was well done. There was rarely a dull moment; in fact, the only slow part I can recall was in the beginning when I was trying to figure out what this new guy Will was doing there.

The Christian religion is the backdrop for a lot of the mythology in the story and I think Pullman develops and expands on these religious themes in a very compelling way. Christians, particularly Catholics, may find some of these themes offensive. The Catholic Church is featured in these books in a rather unfavorable light (as is not uncommon with speculative fiction books).

The Subtle Knife is an entertaining, easy to read story containing some insight into religion and the differences between innocence and experience. It is a light book with some not-so-light themes, perfect for when you are in the mood for a book that is short and fun yet not complete fluff.


Mayer Alan Brenner wrote a series of books called The Dance of Gods published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These books are no longer in print, but Brenner is making them available for free on his website since he feels the books fit in better with today’s popular fantasy authors than what was the norm for the genre when the series was first published. The first book, Catastrophe’s Spell, is currently available for download on Brenner’s site under a Creative Commons license.

I first heard about this website and the series from a recent review of the first book on The Book Swede. It got a rave review and Brenner’s description of the series on his website sounded very interesting and showed a fun sense of humor. Also I thought it was wonderful that Brenner was making the series available for free, so I downloaded the first book. However, after reading the entire first chapter and part of the second one, I was rather disappointed. I found the writing rather choppy and the first chapter contains a character who constantly talks like Yoda, which I found annoying.

I don’t like to judge a book after 15 pages, but honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll finish this one or not. There was nothing that really made me want to keep reading, and I came away from the first chapter thinking I could see why the series never really had a lot of fans. Apparently, the fans it does have love the series, though, which makes me wonder if it’s a case like Firefly. After watching the first few episodes of Firefly, I thought I could understand why it had been canceled, but after watching more episodes, I grew to love it and wonder how they could ever cancel such a fantastic show. So perhaps I should give the book more of a chance before making a decision on it.

Last week I received a personalized copy of Midnight Tides and an autographed copy of The Bonehunters I bought from from The Signed Page, one of my favorite recent discoveries. Both are first edition hardcovers. I was psyched, especially since even though I have a few autographed books, I didn’t have any that are personalized. Authors don’t come to Maine for signings very often since it’s not a very populated area.

There are still a few signed copies of both Midnight Tides and The Bonehunters available on The Signed Page (although not very many). Also, there are some signed copies of The Bonehunters trade paperback available for only $5. That’s much cheaper than buying a copy of the book in a bookstore, making it a great deal. I almost wish I’d seen that one before ordering my hardcover copy (almost, since I have the whole series in hardcover so far).


The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman
399pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.25/5

The Golden Compass (known as Northern Lights in the UK and everywhere other than the U.S. from the sounds of it) is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I’ve had the entire trilogy for a few years now but just hadn’t read it for some reason (well, mainly because it takes less time to buy new books than it does to read them). Since The Golden Compass movie is coming out this December, I decided I had better hurry up and read it so the movie doesn’t spoil the ending for me.

Lyra, a young girl living at Jordan College in Oxford, hides in the master’s room one night just in time to see him attempt to poison her uncle, Lord Asriel. Lyra’s intervention saves Lord Asriel, who then tells Lyra to watch the master from her hiding place in the wardrobe during a meeting with him and the other scholars at the university. At this meeting, Lyra is intrigued by what she hears about Dust and severed children but cannot entirely understand what the adults are discussing.

Soon after this, a beautiful and charming young woman named Mrs. Coulter comes to the university to take Lyra away with her. Early in the morning before she is to leave, Lyra is awakened and summoned to the master’s room. He gives her a device resembling a compass known as an alethiometer and tells her it measures the truth. The master warns Lyra not to let Mrs. Coulter know about his gift to her and their conversation is cut short before he gets to finish what he was going to tell her about Lord Asriel.

Lyra finds that Mrs. Coulter is not as warm and pleasant as she initially seemed, escapes from her, and is caught up in adventures with gyptians, armored bears, and witches on a quest to save Lord Asriel. Her mastery of the alethiometer allows her to play an important role in fate and she is destined to fulfill an old prophecy.

The world in the story is a parallel universe in which a defining characteristic of humans is that they are linked to a daemon, an animal who must stay near the human or both will suffer. The daemon is a constant companion that feels the emotions of the human. Adults have specific animals as their daemons, but children’s daemons are flexible and can take many forms until the child reaches puberty.

This story is marketed for young adults, so it is a fairly short, fun book that is very plot-oriented. Characterization is flat and the dialogue is nothing impressive, but it seemed like standard young adult book characterization and dialogue. As is often the case with young adult books, the world itself seemed more imaginative than a lot of adult fantasy. It had some of the same fantasy themes but written in a less regurgitated standard fantasy way.

The Golden Compass is an enjoyable tale of a child and her daemon companion who are fated to change the world. This is a light read and nothing spectacular, but it is very good for young adult literature. The ending indicates that the future books may have some deeper themes more appealing to adult readers.


The Shades of Time and Memory
by Storm Constantine
448pp (Hardcover)
Rating: 9/10

The Shades of Time and Memory is the second book in the Wraeththu Histories trilogy by British science fiction and fantasy author Storm Constantine. I would not recommend reading this book (or this review) if you have not read the original Wraeththu Chronicles books and the first Wraeththu Histories book. While The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure, the first of the Wraeththu Histories, filled in some of the gaps in the Wraeththu Chronicles, this book picks up where both the first Wraeththu Histories book and the original trilogy ended.

As with the first book in this trilogy, I was a little nervous about reading this one in case it didn’t live up to my expectations. The first book in the new trilogy was really good, but this book actually continued the story after Cal returned to Immanion and was reunited with Pellaz. It turns out my fears were unfounded since I found this book to be as enjoyable as The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure.

One part of this book that I really enjoyed was that it made it seem more difficult for Cal to begin life in Immanion. At the end of the original Wraeththu trilogy, it seemed as though Cal came to the palace, defeated Thiede, restored the relationship between Pellaz and Caeru instantly, and found it easy to adjust to life reigning as Tigron with Pellaz. They lived happily ever after – The End.
This book shows more of the struggles involved with this ending in the beginning of the story. Events played out the same way in a less rushed manner, but it was not instantaneous as the end of the first trilogy made it seem. Pellaz is happy to have Cal back, yet he is resentful of the removal of Thiede. Cal finds that Pellaz has changed over the years. Some members of the Hegemony are planning to remove Cal and put another in his place.

The final members of Pellaz’s family are introduced in this book – Dorado, now known as Snake, and his son Moon. Dorado is an exceptionally powerful seer, who is fearful of his vision of his brother the Tigron of Immanion finding him and Moon. Cobweb, a powerful seer who claims to be weak in comparison to Snake, has become aware of Snake’s presence and convinces Pellaz they need his brother’s powers for the times coming.

Meanwhile, Ponclast the Varr joins forces with a dark and mysterious power to escape the prison he has been in for years. Ponclast has had many sons in preparation for the day when he can fight the Gelaming, and one of these children, Diablo, is granted the power to travel the Otherlanes without a sedim. By accident, Diablo meets the bitter son of Pellaz and Caeru, Abrimel, who is all too eager to defy both his parents and side with Ponclast in the upcoming struggle between the exiled Varrs and the Gelaming.

As always, the characterization is superb. Any character who could be considered evil has motivation instead of just being evil for the sake of it. The characters are not at all black and white and are very vivid. Some of the dialogue struck me as being excellent and more reminiscent of the old Wraeththu trilogy.

As with The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure, this book is more plot-oriented than the very heavily character-oriented Wraeththu Chronicles. The first person perspective is gone and it focuses on a wide variety of characters instead of just one character’s perspective.

I highly recommend the Wraeththu Chronicles and Wraeththu Histories series to anyone looking for a unique story with well-written characters. Some may find there is too much focus on interpersonal relationships, especially in the original trilogy, but if that does not bother you, these are definitely well worth the time spent reading them. This series is imaginative, beautifully written, and filled with gray characters who each have their own very distinct personality. I have never read anything else like it and it has become one of my favorites of all time.



I was hoping to get at least one review up today since it was finally Saturday, but I ended up getting distracted with making the blog a little more interesting… And before I knew it, the day was gone and I hadn’t done much other than some household chores and working on the blog. Oh well, it will be nicer in the long run and I’m excited to see it looking better!

I did a few things I’ve been wanting to do for a while – getting a bunch of books added to my librarything account so I could use it for random books and to display what I’m reading and adding pictures to posts. Thanks to Chris from The Book Swede for reminding me I’ve been wanting to add pictures. 🙂

My fiance also made me the new graphic that has been added, which I’m very happy with. I told him I wanted a dragon sitting in a coffee cup, so he did the next best thing. I like what he did better than my idea anyway.

Next up is to add a few more links… And, of course, adding those 2 reviews (or 3, since I’m getting close to the end of The Golden Compass) that I’m behind on.