A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love fantasy and magic
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.