Friday, October 21, 2016

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (1996)

The problem with listening to a book rather than reading it is that marking interesting passages is difficult.   Compound that with the fact almost all of my audio listening is done via an Overdrive app on my phone, and I check everything out from one of four local libraries.  There is a bookmark function on this app, which I use frequently, although that does require going back and re-listening to bits and pieces, not so easy to do.  Added to this mix:  checked out items from the library via the Overdrive app are have a shelf life; when they are due, there is no overdue - they are just returned.  And with that return, all the bookmarked passages.

That just happened to me with The Subtle Knife.

And I can't renew it.  All four copies from four libraries are checked out.

I know I marked at least one great passage that distilled the some kind of wonderful that is The Subtle Knife into one pithy, interesting blog post.  Alas and alack, it's gone, and I'm stuck ransacking my own wee little brain to find something interesting and new to say about this fascinating book.

When I first read The Subtle Knife, I know at the time I wasn't as moved by it as I had been by The Golden Compass.  I don't remember when I read them, or if I read them as they were being published.  I doubt it, actually; based on the publishing date, this was prior to me working in a library.  I probably was already working in a library when I read them, and I probably read one and then the other in a row.  The Golden Compass was such a WOW of a book and so unique that I can see not being quite as enamored by The Subtle Knife.  Some of TSK is a re-hash of TGC.  Plus, no Iorek Byrnison.

Listening to TSK though, I realize what a terrific, strong book this is.  Just as well written as TGC, full of interesting ideas and concepts, strong, strong characters and a fascinating plot.  Now if I only had those bookmarked passages to back that up.

I don't remember thinking much of Will the first time I read the book, being infatuated with Lyra (and her other world) but hearing him speak aloud completely changed my mind. I thought reading TGC that Lyra was a believably written character; Will is just as strong, likable and believable as Lyra.

Mrs. Coulter remains on the most evil characters in all of literature .  She's so fun!

I know Pullman went on to write a couple of one offs from this series; it seems like to go to all of this world building for three novels and some novellas is - I don't know - such a waste. I really am not a fan of sequels or massive trilogies that go on and on for ever; but Pullman created such a deep, rich world here, and then skimmed only the surface, told us only one story.

The Subtle KnifeThe Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pullman has created such a deep, rich, almost baroque world (or set of worlds, rather). Will is another feisty, difficult character, a perfect counter (and sometimes foil) for clever, stubborn, tenacious Lyra. Both are written with so much care and skill (you can really tell Pullman loves his two main characters, as if they are his own children, the thought that went into their creation; three if you count Pan). His plot is not just a carryover from The Golden Compass, but a resonant story in its own right (although you will need to read the first book, although why you haven't already is a mystery to me, it's slightly better, if only because everything in it is so new and unique). Pullman writes cerebral, thought-provoking fantasy, and you have to stop and pinch yourself occasionally as a reminder that this was a series written for children. The audio version is a true delight; Pullman is narrator, and the full cast is amazing. If the book is a treat in itself, the audio is the icing on the cake.

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