You know how in my review of Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, I was little underwhelmed and blasé about the whole thing? I had my reasons—it was your standard middle book of a trilogy, designed to get from you from point A to point B. But this review isn’t about The Subtle Knife; it’s about The Amber Spyglass, which was amazing enough to wipe out the lingering malaise from the previous book.
Pullman drops back into a world gone mad—angels, witches, and monsters from every world imaginable have been culled by either the Church or Lord Asriel to do battle and decide the ultimate fate of the universe and belief. Amidst the chaos, Mrs. Coulter keeps Lyra in a drugged slumber deep within the Himalayan mountains, torn between her cold personality and her desire to keep her only child safe from both sides of the conflict. From the north, Will leads a contingent of bears in a desperate effort to rescue Lyra and restore the altheometer to her. And, finally, scientist Mary Malone braves new worlds to learn more about the Dust, or Dark Matter, that she has dedicated her life to studying. It’s “reader, beware” from there.
Unlike The Subtle Knife, the action is quick and decisive. We’re pulled from the land of the dead, to a world of intelligent wheeled beings, and even as far as the Kingdom of Heaven. Pullman pulls from medieval Christianity, mythology and science to weave a tale where priests can absolution for a future murder by doing penance his whole life, harpies guard the underworld’s doors, and scientists use the mundane to figure out the spiritual. Altogether, it kept me flicking through my Kindle at a mad pace, leaving me distraught as a reader, yet pleased as a student of literature, that the happy ending was not quite as joyous after all. The book brought me back to that delirious fervor that I felt reading The Golden Compass in my youth.
So if you’re setting out on this three-book journey, take heart when you’re stuck in that windless ocean of a second book—you’re world is about to get exciting very soon.