The Subtle Knife is the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. We find out what happens next to Lyra and the character of Will is introduced. He’s from our world and soon finds himself in the in-between world to which Lyra travelled from her world at the end of Northern Lights.
The knife can cut through the fabric of reality and open doors between the worlds, it also has another use which will be revealed in The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the trilogy, which I have a feeling will be even better. It’s easy enough to guess where this is heading but the storytelling is excellent and frankly creepy in places. By the inclusion of a science researcher character, Pullman links dark matter theory explicitly to his concept of ‘dust’ and so his theological fantasy becomes closely linked to real science.
In the in-between world adults are being rendered zombie-like by shadowy phantoms who may be the opposite of angels. The witches from Lyra’s world agree to try and help Lyra as much as they can because she is the girl in a prophecy of theirs, while the balloon pilot Scoresby also wants to help her and thinks that finding Dr Grumman (the rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated by Lord Asriel) will help. So the plot follows the adventures of the witches, Scoresby, Lyra and Will as they gradually all end up meeting up towards the end of the book. Will and Lyra come up against various hurdles and baddies along the way and she even loses her prize possession.
Mystery remains about Lyra’s role in the world, Asriel and Lyra’s mother are largely ignored, and most of the action revolves around Will. It’s difficult to say any more without providing spoilers and so I won’t. I enjoyed it more than the first book and I’m looking forward to the final act.