The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass

I have previously professed my love for His Dark Materials here: The Golden Compass and the love affair continues through the trilogy. The series has such a great blend of fantasy and action, yet really makes you think about your own existence. Just a reminder about the series- it takes place in a world like ours, but not completely. The people have souls outside their bodies, called daemons, that change form during childhood. The forms are always some kind of animal and once puberty hits, give or take, the daemon takes on a permanent form.

In The Subtle Knife, we meet a new character, Will, who is from our world, and he doesn’t have a daemon, nor does he even recognize what one would be. He meets Lyra (really in the very beginning, so not much of a spoiler) and they realize they need to go to figure out just what in the world this Dust business is really all about. Along they way, they meet a scholar/scientist named Mary Malone who has been studying Dust, but in another form. Lyra, Will, and Mary all realize the existence of other worlds and must travel through them to find their answers. They also come into possession of the titular knife.

In The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra once again are faced with a seemingly impossible task. They much travel to the Land of the Dead (why is too long to go into here) as humans, which is something that has never been done before, and return as humans. Mary, on the other hand, has traveled to an entirely different world and has met some new friends, you could say. Our three friends realize the magnitude of possessing the golden compass (Lyra’s), the knife (Will’s) and the spyglass (Mary’s) and must use their instruments selflessly and for the good of mankind. Which is powerful and heartbreaking.

I cannot recommend this series strongly enough. Sure, it’s written for young adults, but it doesn’t read that way. There are some very mature, thought provoking concepts addressed, namely religion and its presence in the world, and the characters are so dynamic you can’t help but be drawn in to their world. Be looking for my review of La Belle Sauvage soon!! It’s the first book in the newest trilogy in this world and is set about 10 years before The Golden Compass.

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The Golden Compass

I’m just going to tell you this in advance. This is my all-time favorite trilogy. I would name my daughter Lyra, if I had the chance. Back when I taught middle school, my students raved about this series. I was quite skeptical because I just don’t enjoy much fantasy, and make no bones about it, this is quite fantastical. But the series has so much heart, that it was impossible for me to forget. And I ended up with a son who could be Lyra’s male counterpart. As much as I wanted to see this book on the big screen, I was completely disappointed with the end result. I have high hopes for the BBC series, though. Last I heard there will be 40 episodes (8 each season for 5 seasons) to cover the entire trilogy.

The basic story isn’t unique: the chosen child goes on a quest, however, the fantastic elements make the story memorable. First the humans have daemons who are essentially their souls who live outside their bodies as animals. Children’s daemons shift shapes until puberty, then the daemons fix. Some daemons take on the human’s future career, dogs are servants, water animals are fishermen, etc. Daemons and humans can only be separated by a few yards and are connected by an invisible thread. Lyra accidentally hears about Dust and ends up traveling north to the Arctic on a mission. She has one tool with her: The Golden Compass, also known as an alethiometer. This device, which is one of 6 in the world, can only be read by a few people, Lyra being one of them, of course, being the chosen one. The alethiometer can give her answers to questions. It’s a truth telling machine.

Along the way she makes friends with gyptians, talking Arctic bears, witches, and a man with a balloon. To get deep into the plot is to give many spoilers, but what is happening in the north involves Dust and is horrifying. Keep in mind this book is for young adults, so it’s not graphically horrifying, but more symbolically horrifying. And in the center of it all is Lyra, brave, clever, kind, selfless Lyra. She is impossible to tame, but would do anything for her those she loves. She hates formal education, but is very wise. She is a truly perfect character. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.