The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials, Book 2

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Brilliant story; more fast-paced, violent than first book.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 17 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Poetic language will grip readers. And even reluctant readers will find enough non-stop action here to stick with this book -- and move on to other installments in the series.

Positive Messages

There are obvious themes of good versus evil -- though who is who may sometimes surprise readers. Also, readers will pick up on a message about having courage to go on.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lyra and Will demonstrate loyalty, determination, and responsibility, even if they are not always honest.


Kids are attacked repeatedly. The battles over the Knife, in which Will loses fingers, are bloody. Will accidentally kills a man. Many scary moments, including being surrounded by soul-sucking ghosts. Will, trying to save his mother, meets his father just before he dies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this brilliantly constructed story, even faster-paced than the first book, keeps readers breathless. There is some intense violence in this fantasy world: The child protagonists are attacked repeatedly and surrounded by soul-sucking ghosts, and the battles over the Knife, in which Will loses fingers, are bloody. Also, Will accidentally kills a man. But, the brilliant writing inspires imagination. Lyra and Will demonstrate loyalty, determination, and responsibility, even if they are not always honest.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBobthezealot March 30, 2015
Adult Written byjamiesolome July 18, 2013

Couldn't Finish It

I started this book, but it was so bad I couldn't finish it. It starts out with a child murdering someone by accident, and it doesn't get any better.... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRockyBalboa July 27, 2012

The Subtle Knife

First of all, these books aren't about "killing God." The Authority is not God, he's an extremely powerful angel. The real God is left alo... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byelijahwood93 April 9, 2008

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Its sad that if the author wouldn't have put so much athiesm in it it would have most likely been a good book. but he had to ruin it with his anti christia... Continue reading

What's the story?

Lyra's desperate adventures continue as she passes into a world called Cittàgazze, where she meets a boy named Will, destined to become the Bearer of the Subtle Knife, which can cut anything, even the boundaries between worlds. Meanwhile, the nefarious Mrs. Coulter is out to stop Lyra from fulfilling her destiny, everyone is after the knife, and Lord Asriel is amassing the greatest army ever gathered for an assault on The Authority who is, well, God. And as happened once before, the angels are lining up on both sides.

Is it any good?

Nonstop action and stunning imagination make this a more-than-worthy sequel. In fact, these two elements make this even better than The Golden Compass, its astonishing predecessor. First, this book starts with a bang and never lets up. Second, this book showcases Pullman's incredible imagination. The author writes poetically, and with a scope of vision that goes far beyond that of ordinary fantasy, and which is, at times, astonishingly reckless and even bizarre. Readers not only experience the beauty of his words, but the excitement of seeing just how far he can and will go. The relative simplicity of Pullman's lyricism is what makes this trilogy accessible to bright tweens and teens, while still challenging adults. The ambition and the sheer audacity of this series are breathtaking.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this book compares to the first book. Common Sense marked the first book, The Golden Compass, OK for 10 and older, but said this one is better for 12 and up. Do you agree? Why do series tend to get darker and more violent as they go on?

  • And speaking of the violence, what did you think of some of the intense stuff here? Like Will losing his fingers? Does the fantasy context make this violence easier to handle?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and magic

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