Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “philip pullman”

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #15-#18: His Dark Materials, Books 1-4 by Philip Pullman


A bit of a cheat on this one in my rush to get some more up for the CBR4 deadline. Review combining Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Books 1 thru 4, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass and short story, Lyra’s Oxford is at Loopy Ker’s Life.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 08: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I’m going to go light on plot overview because I want to talk more about the thematic aspects of this one. So here are some things that happen inThe Amber Spyglass, and not in any particular order:

Lyra and Will travel to the land of the dead, and they have to separate from their daemons to do so. The description of the emotional consequences of the separation is heart-wrenching.

Dr. Mary Malone, a scientist from Will’s world who studies Dust, travels to a world where she ends up living with creatures that I imagined to have elephant heads on gazelle bodies, except the legs were, as Pullman described, in a diamond conformation. Mary fashions the titular Spyglass in order to see Dust.

Mrs. Coulter is sneaky and underhanded, but in a somewhat redeeming way.

There are tiny people who work as spies for Lord Asriel, and there are all varieties of angels: some vengeful, some immature, some wise, some emotional wrecks.

Epic battles! Epic heartbreak! Death! Wisdom from Iorek Byrinson!

Okay. I’m getting a little jokey because I’m delirious and I don’t love writing reviews, but understand it’s not because I’m joking at expense of The Amber Spyglass. When my Golden Compass review was posted on Pajiba a few days ago, there was actually a bit of discussion and some mixed reviews around this book. Mainly, it seems like people don’t like Mary and her creatures or Pullman’s heavy-handed criticism of the Church, and they feel that Lyra’s ultimate purpose, for which the whole total of everyone and everything is at stake, is kind of weird and hokey. These are valid criticisms that understandably bother some people, but ultimately, I didn’t care. YES, he beat the shit out of that “The Church is evil and the Authority is kind of a dick” drum, and that’s probably easier to swallow if you don’t have religious inclinations, but my take was that the message, moreso than the players, is of import here. It could have been the Church, it could have been a government, or it could have been the Illuminati — the point was that blind faith is not a good thing, especially when the vaulted leaders simplify everything into ‘good’ and ‘evil.’

As for Mary, it’s definitely true that she didn’t need to be there. But that world she was inhabiting sounded so lovely and pastoral that I didn’t mind taking a break every few chapters to check in with her there. I liked the idea that some worlds simply didn’t evolve human beings, because think about it — if Pullman posits that there are worlds upon worlds interlacing with each other, why would all of them have humanoid life? It may seem ridiculous to invent new creatures just for a subplot, but I think it made the whole idea of multiple worlds more interesting.

The fate of Lyra and Will I am reluctant to discuss too much because it could get spoilery. I will say that in my case, the emotional impact of their destiny did really affect me. The impact the two of them were meant to have on Everything did seem a little overwrought, but it didn’t really lessen my connection to them when they had their epiphany.

SO. In conclusion.The Amber Spyglass is a bit more jarring in pacing than the prior two novels. There are more quick cuts between different scenes, and even more characters to keep track of. My eventual impression was that each of these stories did, in the end, enhance the overall experience and make the climax more satisfying (see what I did there?) And yes, there is some heartstring-pulling, so if you’re into that kind of thing you’ll almost certainly be impacted. I finished this about a week ago, and I have to say that I’m still thinking about it daily, processing everything that happened and nursing my residual heartache. I’m kind of a softie, maybe, and I will own up to placing more value on the story than on technicalities.

All of this together means I get to add another book to the ‘Favorites’ list!

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 07: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The Subtle KnifeAs the cover says, The Subtle Knife is the sequel to The Golden Compass, and the second book of the complete His Dark Materials trilogy. It is possible that there may be implied SPOILERS for The Golden Compass in this review. Any spoilers are unintended, but I am discussing a sequel. This book introduces us to Will Parry, who is from a different world than we were introduced to in TGC. We are meant to gather that Will’s world is our world; it lacks obvious supernatural phenomena, and the people in it do not have external daemons like the people from the world in TGC do.

After being harassed by two men who want to uncover information about his missing father, Will accidentally kills one of them when they come to his house to search for documents that may reveal his father’s last known whereabouts. In order to escape the law, Will stumbles upon a window to another world: the world of Cittàgazze. While there, he meets Lyra — who we met in The Golden Compass and who found herself in Cittàgazze at the conclusion of TGC — and the two find themselves allied by benefiting from each others’ knowledge. While in Cittàgazze, Will becomes involved in a struggle that results in his becoming the new bearer of the Subtle Knife. He learns that the knife has the power to cut through worlds, which explains the window between his world and Cittàgazze. Following Will’s possession of the knife, Lyra joins him in order to try to find his father, as she was instructed by her alethiometer (truth-telling device) that this is her most important task.

As in TGC, here are several other side-plots that are important (and intriguing), but for the sake of brevity, I’m not discussing them here. The side plots do eventually serve to assist the purpose of the children, so as long as you care about what the kids are doing, you’ll understand the necessity of what the other characters are doing and you’ll enjoy reading about them doing it.

The Subtle Knife is a bit underwhelming compared to The Golden Compass (and the final book, The Amber Spyglass, which I’ll review in a bit), but that’s kind of like saying that 12-year aged cheddar is underwhelming compared to 20-year aged cheddar. It’s still an excellent book that builds solidly upon the first, with necessary exposition to move the plot forward, and another compelling character in Will. It’s got a cliffhanger that pretty much guarantees you pick up the next book, but the ending does make TSK difficult to justify as a standalone. And maybe TSK standing alone was never Pullman’s intention, but it’s safe to say that no one picks up this book without the intention of reading the other two. In any case, though it’s not as epic as the other two books in the trilogy, it certainly holds its own. It energizes the reader to complete the series, rather than dissolving interest or forcing obligation.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 06: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Everyone knows this one already, right? It’s the first in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and a YA fantasy classic. The story follows Lyra Belacqua and her daemon, Pantalaimon, as they travel to the North from a mystical version of Oxford, England. Her party’s goal is to rescue kidnapped children from the hands of the Oblation Board, which uses the children for horrifying metaphysical experiments. Lyra has a separate mission to rescue Lord Asriel, an imprisoned Scholar studying the properties of an elementary particle called Dust, and she is assisted by a clan of witches, a Texan aeronaut, and a giant fighting armored polar bear named Iorek Byrinson. Unbeknownst to Lyra, she has an all-important role to play in a great war allegedly involving heaven and any number of interwoven worlds on Earth.

This is one of my favorite books. The first time I read it, I was much younger, and I thought it was the most magical book. Reading it again now, my appreciation for some of the scientific logic is enhanced, and I benefit from a more mature understanding of the political machinations of the powers in the world.

Lyra herself is a fascinating character.  She’s intelligent but not always thoughtful, though she learns from her mistakes and benefits from growing wisdom. She’s a little brash and impulsive, but endlessly loyal. Her daemon, the external representation of her soul, is also adventurous and sharp, but he also is a bit more ponderous and collected and sometimes saves Lyra from jumping too hastily into poorly-evaluated situations. The other cool thing about Lyra — as a youngish girl reading this novel for the first time — is that she’s a GIRL. She’s the young female protagonist I always wanted: imperfect, but ultimately a well-rounded individual with obvious personality and depth, who is worthy of the tasks presented to her and didn’t always need rescuing.

So, everyone should read this book. It’s classic fantasy, well-written both in plot and characterization.

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