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Book: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 418 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: In concluding the spellbinding His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman produces what may well be the most controversial children's book of recent years. The witch Serafina Pekkala, quoting an angel, sums up the central theme: "All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. The rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed." Early on, this "Authority" is explicitly identified as the Judeo-Christian God, and he is far from omnipotent: his Kingdom is ruled by a regent. The cosmic battle to overthrow the Kingdom is only one of the many epic sequences in this novelAso much happens, and the action is split among so many different imagined worlds, that readers will have to work hard to keep up with Pullman. In the opening, for example, Lyra is being hidden and kept in a drugged sleep in a Himalayan cave by her mother, the beautiful and treacherous Mrs. Coulter. Will is guided by two angels across different worlds to find Lyra. The physicist and former nun, Mary Malone, sojourns in an alternatively evolved world. In yet another universe, Lord Asriel has assembled a great horde of otherworldly beings-including the vividly imagined race of haughty, hand-high warriors called GallivespiansAto bring down the Kingdom. Along the way, Pullman riffs on the elemental chords of classical myth and fairy tale. While some sections seem rushed and the prose is not always as brightly polished as fans might expect, Pullman's exuberant work stays rigorously true to its own internal structure. Stirring and highly provocative. 

My Thoughts: There's only one thing preventing this book from being a perfect A+, and that is the message. I really found trouble suspending my Christian belief long enough to be able to immerse myself into the story of Dust/dark matter/Shadows/sraf, but other than that, this book was, by far, one of my all-time favorite books ever and the series perhaps one of my all-time favorites as well.

I found myself connecting even more to all the characters, even the ones that I absolutely hated at the beginning of the series. Mrs. Coulter was one of those characters that I thought I would never be able to like, but she was able to achieve so much depth that I couldn't help feeling proud of how her story finally ended. Lyra and Will have a huge place in my heart as one of my favorite book couples, and Pantalaimon is so cute—I feel like picking him up and cuddling him (even though I would never do so, because if I did, I'd be breaking the great taboo).

But anyway, the action in this book was so suspenseful. From beginning to end, I could hardly put this book down. All the plot lines, from Mrs. Coulter to Lord Asriel to the Church to Lyra and Will and so many other characters, came together amazingly. None of them were boring, because I felt involved in each of their plot lines, even though there were many of them.

Pullman introduced an awesome species in this book—they're called mulefa, and they were so vividly drawn out that I couldn't help adoring them. I mean, how could you not like a creature that rides around on wheels? That idea was so original that I had to blink a few times. I mean, how could Pullman possibly think of something that interesting? It was absolutely amazing in my eyes—I certainly would not have thought of it.

In the middle of the story, though, it nearly made me cry, and in the middle of Social Studies class too. Those who read the series probably know what I'm talking about, but I won't spoil it for the rest of you. I'll just say that what Lyra had to do was so absolutely heartbreaking—I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and I very rarely cry because of books. It was so sad, and the way Pullman wrote it... it was wow.

I don't think I'll ever run out of things to say about this book, since I adored it so much. For some reason, the "killing God" bit didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, and I definitely enjoyed this series. I am so glad that I decided to read this series. 

I have to go now, but I'll just close and say: Despite the message, I recommend this book to anyone. Even for those Christians who feel they shouldn't read it because it's "anti-Christian," I still feel like you should read this book. Yes, it was that good.

Believe me, I don't recommend books that go against my beliefs so blatantly as this all the time, so...

Go. Buy. Read now.

callistahogan: (Default)
Book: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 326 pp.
Grade: A-

Amazon Summary: The epic adventure continues as the plot thickens in the second riveting book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, which began with the much heralded The Golden Compass, Booklist's Top of the List in youth fiction for 1996. This time, the story begins in our world with Will, a boy who escapes his pursuers by going through a window into another world, a world plagued by soul-sucking specters, where he encounters Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon. The two youngsters join forces, moving between worlds searching for the mysterious phenomenon called Dust and for Will's long-lost father. By losing two fingers in a battle with a madman, Will becomes a warrior and the bearer of the subtle knife, a weapon that, like Lyra's truth-telling alethiometer, is a talisman as well, and, like Lyra, Will proves to be a pivotal figure in the looming battle for the universe. Often the middle book in a trilogy is the weakest; such is not the case here despite some incidences of awkward explanations inserted as asides or as part of the narrative. It's the character development as well as the relentless pace on several fronts—that of Will, Lyra, the witches, Will's father, and others—and a couple of gruesome incidents that make this a resoundingly successful sequel. The cliff-hanger of an ending will leave readers desperate for the next installment. 

My Thoughts: I do have to say that the second installment of this series is much better than the first, even though there are some sticking points in terms of religion that really make me want to stop reading right here.

However, this book was... riveting. There's no other word for it—from the first chapter, I was hooked, ensnared with Will and his story. It was just so... engrossing. From the beginning, Will was a character that I knew I was going to adore. I enjoyed the parts with him, especially the parts with the subtle knife. He just seems like an awesome character, and someone I'd want to know in real life (although, of course, I'd have preferred it if he hadn't killed someone at the beginning of the story).

In the first chapter, the action starts right away, and it hardly stops until the end of the book—and then it kept going. From Serafina's adventures to Lee Scoresby's quest to find Stanislaus Grumman to Will and Lyra's frequent journeys from Will's world—our normal London, with no daemons or armored bears—to Cittagazze, the in-between world, the action kept going on. I was never bored reading this book, and even now, I can't wait until I get to school tomorrow so I can pick up The Amber Spyglass.

Like a lot of people said, though, this book focused a lot on all of the different characters and, as such, I think Philip Pullman could have handled the execution a little better. For example, I frequently found myself reading something from Lyra's perspective and then intruding into some of Will's thoughts, sometimes within a paragraph or two of each other. I would have preferred it if Pullman had cleaned up the POVs a bit better, but I understand that it was more of a third-person omniscient sort of thing, where we are very rarely just in one person's head at a time.

That's one of my problems, but I did find it offensive about how Pullman portrayed Christianity. I'm not sure where he got the idea that Christianity was oppressive, because I don't see that anywhere, with the exceptions of the Crusades and things like that. It bothers me, Pullman's perspective on religion. He seems to think that all religion is bad, but nothing is worse than Christianity. He twisted around the Genesis story, and part of me wanted to stop reading then and there, but I kept with it (partly because of [profile] limmenel's suggestion to keep going even if I don't agree with the message), and I just hope that The Amber Spyglass doesn't make me want to scream at the book or throw it across the room.

But anyway, disregarding my issues with the message, I adored this book. I found myself connecting with all of the characters and their adventures, which is something not a lot of writers can achieve without making it too long and bulky. The way Pullman wrote the series was... rich and decadent and full of details—I could see everything clearly, which is, again, something a lot of writers have trouble with.

So, all in all, this book was quite a bit better than the first one and, regardless of its message, it is good enough to make me want to pick up The Amber Spyglass once I get to school tomorrow.
callistahogan: (Default)
Book: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 399 pp.
Grade: B+

Amazon Summary: In a landmark epic of fantasy and storytelling, Philip Pullman invites readers into a world as convincing and thoroughly realized as Narnia, Earthsea, or Redwall. Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford's Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called "Gobblers"—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person's inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

My Thoughts: Well.

As you can see by my grade, I enjoyed this book. It started out fairly slow, but the action gradually built up. I enjoyed the adventures Lyra and Pantalaimon got themselves thrown into, and I really liked the way Pullman wrote the two characters. They seemed real. They weren't invincible, like so many characters are—they were able to get manipulated, kidnapped, and thrown around by their "betters" quite a lot during the book. 

Like I said, the action was quite well-paced. There were a few sections where it seemed to drag on a bit, but other than that, it was quite well-written. For the last two hundred pages or so, I didn't want to put it down—it was that good and engrossing. Even though I knew that Lyra, Pantalaimon, Roger, and some other characters were good, I wasn't so sure about the others, especially Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. Even though I had read the book before, I couldn't remember what happened, so the ending was fairly surprising.

However, the one thing that I didn't like was the bits near the end with the Bible. I understand that it's necessary for the plot, and if Pullman cut that out, the books wouldn't be worth anything, but I did sort of find it offensive how he inserted phrases and words into the Bible that were never there in the first place. I tried not to take too much offense, but it did sort of jar me out of the story a bit.

Despite that, though, I truly enjoyed the book, and I can't see what will happen next. It's lucky that I got The Subtle Knife from my public library, because I'm definitely going to start reading that right now. Everyone I've talked to has said that the religion stuff doesn't really pay a big part until the second and third books, so I just hope that it doesn't force me to drop the books before I finish.

I'm going to try to finish this series, and I hope the second and third ones deliver.

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March 2010

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