The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) Book Poster Image

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2)



Brilliant story; more fast-paced, violent than first book.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

What parents need to know

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

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.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Philip Pullman
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 1, 1997
Number of pages:352

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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 christian views. I mean the little girls ability t o lie, to me thats telling us that its okay to lie. and to be graphic and violent. this book is not good to read if you want to be confused between whats right and wrong. they are most definitley wrong bout it being for kids and teens. Its just trying to tell us its okay to disobey are parents,lie,cheat,kill,to worship the devil.I mean who in the world would want everything good to be bad and bad to be good????I don't! I must say I'm ashamed to have read the first book and i'm most def not reading this one!!!!
Adult Written bynadnerb April 9, 2008

Read them in order

These books are riveting! I loved all 3 in the series. Definitely read them in order to understand the sequence. I love the strong female character and the platonic relationship between her and the boy. I also love the animal alter-ego idea.
Educator and Parent 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. One of the few books I had to stop reading in the middle because it was so bad. Not worth the effort to read.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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