The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials, Book 3

Common Sense Media says

Intense fantasy series finale with controversial theme.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Enough action here to appeal to reluctant readers. Teachers and parents wishing to delve into the plot with readers can check out the publisher's guide (there, you will also find a list of recommended reading).

Positive messages

This book has a controversial theme: The only heaven is in our own world, and the best we can hope for after life is oblivion. If this idea is offensive to you, then this book will be also.  However, kids caught up in the fantasy and action will probably miss most of the book's theological leanings.

Positive role models

Will rescues Lyra, and the two are on an adventure that involves constant courage.


Plenty, some rather gory. Murder, deaths in battle, mutilation, beheading.


Kissing, intimations of sex, sexual feelings.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A boy is made to drink vodka.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there's a fair amount of violence here, some gory, though not as much nor as graphic as the second book in the series. Though handled with great delicacy and discretion, part of the plot revolves around the sexual awakening of the two main characters. There are also themes in this one that are bound to upset some religious readers: The author manages to question just about everything about religion in this book while he sends his main characters on trips through Heaven and Hell. You'll also find more bad guys in the rigid religious institutions than anywhere, and one Father is sent by the church to kill a main character. However, kids caught up in the fantasy and action will probably miss most of the book's theological leanings.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

With the help of two lesser angels, Will rescues Lyra, held a drugged captive, at the end of The Subtle Knife by her evil mother, who may or may not have discovered her maternal instinct. Once free, they make for the world of the dead, to free the spirits of the dead into oblivion, which is far better than the hellacious afterlife they lead. Meanwhile the Church plots Lyra's murder, as they believe her to be a new Eve, who will bring about another Fall; Lord Asriel readies his forces for battle with Metatron, the angel who has taken over heaven from the decrepit and feeble-minded Authority; Dr. Mary Malone ends up in a world of gentle creatures who can see Dust, and begins making discoveries about the changes all the worlds are suffering; and all the worlds and all the races begin taking sides for the final climactic battle.

Is it any good?


If you haven't read the first two books, don't even think of trying to read this one first -- Pullman, praise be, wastes no time bringing readers up to speed. In fact, even if you have read the previous books, you may want to reread them before tackling this -- there's a lot to keep track of.

Readers who were expecting the conclusion of the trilogy to make all things clear may be disappointed; Pullman has a lot to say, but he also leaves a lot for readers to figure out themselves. Still, the author hasn't lost his touch -- it's as riveting and fast-paced as ever. His characterizations are even stronger, although his plotting is weaker here than in the first two books; there's a lot of meandering about, setups that promise more than they deliver, and plot lines that just peter out. But Pullman's point seems clear enough to perceptive and more mature readers: The only heaven is in our own world, and the best we can hope for after life is oblivion. If this idea is offensive to you, then this book will be also. Those able to support -- or at least tolerate his perspective -- will find a feverishly exciting adventure.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the controversy this book has created. It has been criticized both for being too violent -- and for its religious viewpoint. Did either of these things bother you while you were reading it? Is violence or other content ever reason to ban a book?

  • This book is less gory than The Subtle Knife but still has some intense moments. Is reading about violence different than seeing it in a movie or video game? What about if it is in a fantasy context?

Book details

Author:Philip Pullman
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:October 10, 2000
Number of pages:518
Publisher's recommended age(s):12

This review of The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials, Book 3 was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
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  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written bysoviet8790 December 5, 2010

Spare the Censor, Save the Child

I find all of these parents' rantings and ravings to be laughable. By censoring what your children read, you are putting them at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives. They will grow up with little or nothing to give to thought provoking conversations. Their peers will mock them: "Oh, mommy keeps baby from reading anything that has something to say about reality." Seriously, act like a rational person, and don't censor what your children read. I find it offensive that the author of this page doubts if children can comprehend the subject matter. I was 12 when I read the series and understood everything it had to offer. It's probably only the children who have to read this book secretly from their censoring parents that have problems dealing with the ideas presented.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models
Parent of a 1, 3, and 5 year old Written bypetersfamilyband February 7, 2009

Not a children's book

This is a thought-provoking and well-written book, but it is not a children's book. There's too much violence, and part of the plot involves the sexual awakening of two twelve-year-olds. I also think the themes of the book are above a child's head. The author interweaves Biblical imagery and allegory to express his belief in atheism. For children, though, who have trouble with abstractions and symbolism, I think it's unlikely that they'd reach the author's intended conclusion that there is no God. Instead, I think they'd take the story at face value and come to the conclusion that there is a God but he is bad and we should rebel against him. Also, there is never a clear dividing line between who is good and who is evil. For example, Lyra's father is supposedly one of the good guys and all the characters are flocking to join his revolution, but in order to set things in motion, he kills an innocent child. Blurred lines between good and evil might be realistic, but it's too confusing for a young child. I think this would be a great book for a teenager, but I'd be hesitant to let a younger child read it.
Adult Written byHeroneSilverton April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Amazing final to an amazing series.

Honestly, first off I want to ask the other reviewers what their issue is. You all seem to be so judgmental it's ridiculous. Just because the book was written by an athiest doesn't mean you should put down everything he writes. It's a story, and a good one at that, and you guys need to get over it. If you don't like it, the don't read it. It's pretty simple. But I can tell you all, it does have adult themes, and it is definitly not a children's book, but it was one of my absolute favourite series of all time. I applaud Pullman on his fantastic writing style and ability. Do not listen to these people that like to go hunt out the bad things in the book and even go so far as listing the page numbers. Obviously, these people have little or no lives, and need to be ignored. Give the book a try. It is amazing, regardless of who wrote it. And to the reviewers before me, It is not nice to be intolerant of other religions. Maybe you should actually try to accept and RESPECT other people. Otherwise, they won't respect you. Enough said.


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