The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials, Book 3

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Intense fantasy series finale with controversial theme.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 28 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A boy is made to drink vodka.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHeroneSilverton April 9, 2008

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 writ... Continue reading
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 res... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bymilly93 April 9, 2008

Ignore complainers about the religious issues.

So there's a lot of stuff about religion... so who cares? #1, it's fiction. #2, if you are old enough to read this (12-13+) then you can tell the diff... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old November 21, 2016

The vantage point makes all the difference

The Amber Spyglass is a very well-written novel, but its underlying themes of the Mulefa and the disappearing daemons are slightly perplexing. The sensual endi... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and magic

Themes & Topics

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