Book Review: The Amber Spyglass


And through it all went the two nolongerquitechildren, seeing the Specters almost clearly now.

The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman

I sped through The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, but for some reason, it took me a much longer time to read The Amber Spyglass. Sure, I was busy with other things. But for some reason, I was less intrigued, less interested, in the last instalment of the trilogy than the previous two.

Don’t get me wrong. Again, the book is full of interesting ideas, especially about sexuality. There are the two male angels, Bathamos and Baruch, whose relationship, I would say, is far more passionate than any other couple in the book. The angels do not seem to be explicitly sexual beings, but one is scarcely mentioned without pining after the other, and the fact that they love each other is made quite clear. I found Will’s non-judgmental admiration of their relationship refreshing, especially for a children’s book. But like I said before, I would have a hard time classifying His Dark Materials as children’s books.

Although the story is set in mostly fantastical universes, with characters including armored bears, tiny humanoid beings called Gallivespians, and witches flying around on pine branches, the issues that Lyra and the others encounter are very much relatable to the reader. There’s sexuality, of course, with Lyra and Will beginning their transition from childhood, but there’s a myriad of other ideas that make The Amber Spyglass, and the entire series, a worthy read. The bomb, the war, the armored bears being forced to migrate from their native Arctic to the mountains due to melting icecaps. This all sounds relatively familiar.

I liked the fantastical universes Lyra and Will visit, especially the world of the mulefa. When I was younger, I used to attempt to write my own fiction (aspiring to become the next Rowling, or Murakami, or whoever was my favorite author at the time). For a while, I tried to write fantasy, but I found that my imagination was lacking. My magical creatures tended to be borrowed from books and movies I’d enjoyed. The mulefa are pretty unique in their anatomy, their harmony with their environment, their relationship with the trees that sustain them and that they sustain.

But now I can move on to what I didn’t enjoy so much about the book. For one thing, there were simply too many new characters. Pullman adds onto the cast introduced in the earlier two books, bringing back old characters and introducing new species and new people.

The narrative skips from Lyra, to Mrs. Coulter, to Lord Asriel, to whoever else can provide the next convenient perspective. And, to be honest, although I found the Gallivespians interesting, I thought that sometimes they lacked individual characterization, and were just there to propel the plot forward. Having a tiny person present at clandestine meetings to report back to Mrs. Coulter or whoever was awfully convenient. Aside from that, it got difficult to keep track of so many characters of different species, in different worlds.

And although I won’t go into it too deeply, I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It took away from the uniqueness of the series that made me like it in the first place. The novel’s narrative voice, while rich and intriguing in its descriptions of magical worlds and beings, turned rather cheesy and derivative. I liked the series, so I forced myself to continue, but I would have to say this was my least favorite of the three.

YES OR NO?: YES. I saw that I’d written that The Subtle Knife is not as strong a read as The Golden Compass, but I somehow think this third book is the least interesting out of the trilogy. It’s a bit busy. But obviously I would recommend that you finish the trilogy, which as a whole has been my favourite read of 2015, so far.


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