The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials, Book 3 Book Poster Image

The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials, Book 3



Intense fantasy series finale with controversial theme.
Popular with kids

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.

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

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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.
Parent of a 8 and 11 year old Written bytm333 April 9, 2008

Definately not for children

I heard the hype about this book and found it at my kids' elememtary school library. I read all three books in the trilogy and found this one to be very disturbing. First, the main characters go to the place where dead people go. They find that there is no heaven or hell, only a desolate wasteland where everyone goes for eternity. Where huge creatures torture each soul by reminding them of anything bad they might have done in their life. The idea of heaven is just a lie put on them by the people pushing religion. Secondly, toward the end of the book the main characters who have just reached puberty suddenly become "self-aware" and kiss passionately and ultimately have s** (although it is not explicit). The whole premise of the book is that religion, and I quote from the book "is a convenient mistake" and sin is actually a good thing. These may be interesting topics for debate in a college class, but definately not for children.
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 difference between fact and fiction. And besides, there is a God in this book if you think about it - Dust. Dust is not an old man who lives in the sky, it's actually closer to what a lot of people feel like God is - that he is kind of spread out throughout the world keeping the world alive. This book is not really against God or some supreme, good force, it's more against an establishment that's doing an injustice to people. It's obviously NOT based on the real-life Church, so why gripe about that? As for romance-related stuff, that is up to parents. It wasn't an issue for me. And they never actually said that the kids went beyond kissing, even if it was implied. I read the book when I was 13, and didn't realize that they could have gone that far until I was 14 or 15. So if you are old enough to realize how far they MIGHT have gone, you are old enough to know not to go that far yourself. I guess to boil this all down to one thing, you would have to say: if you're old enough to understand, you're old enough to know better. And when you get past all of that, this is simply a great book, entertaining to the last page. There are many beautiful aspects of the book.