Over the Christmas period, I enjoyed a comforting re-read of The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, the final book in Pullman’s ever popular His Dark Materials trilogy. (There is a considerable chance of spoilers in this post, so if you are unfamiliar with this series I recommend instead that you read my thoughts on the first book: Northern Lights).
Now Will is the bearer of ‘The Subtle Knife’, his father’s dying wish was for him to deliver this powerful and dangerous weapon to Lord Asriel to help in his war against ‘The Authority’. But Will couldn’t possibly think of going until he has found and rescued Lyra, from those who wish to stop her fulfilling her destiny, as Will and Lyra’s lives, loves, and fates are now irrevocably joined. Together they have their own battles to fight and inevitable journey to go on, that will even take them to the world of the dead…
And it was another real joy to follow the wild, spontaneous Lyra and the practical, selfless Will on their adventures. For me they truly are the best partners in crime and in this final book it is wonderful to see their friendship blossom into something deeper and richer. However this final book also has a lot more characters and threads, all of which have their own crucial part to play, going on at once, including: Lord Asriel, Mrs Coulter, the witch Serafina Pekkala, the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison, Dr Mary Malone and the ‘Mulefa’, Father Gomez, the angels Balthamos and Baruch and the dead…
Boy, I had forgotten just how much Pullman had stuffed into this book! On the positive side this makes for an intriguing, twisting tale which should really make for a rollercoaster ride but for me it doesn’t, and that is because many of these characters and threads have never been mentioned let alone explored in any detail in the previous books. Which for me, especially first time around, meant whole slow sections that felt like giant information dumps! Having said that though this time, being my second read, I did find it a lot easier to take everything in. However my true enjoyment still came from the simpler, central thread following Lyra and Will.
Then we come to the final epic showdown between the armies of Lord Asriel and ‘The Authority’, and Lyra facing temptation and her prophesied destiny. Through out which Pullman showcases his Atheism: making it quite clear a world, or in this case worlds, without God and/or organised religion is a better one. Now I am a practicing Christian and I have to admit there was nothing that particularly bothered or upset me about all this – if Pullman wants to be an Atheist that is up to him and his opinions won’t affect my faith. On the other hand though, I can see how people could be bothered, upset or angered by some of his views shared in this book.
So overall The Amber Spyglass is still not my favourite, however I did find it easier second time around and it is still a fitting, bitter-sweet ending to a wonderful trilogy. While I didn’t plan it, this re-read has also aligned with the release of Pullman’s sequel The Book of Dust, which I now look forward to reading! Good read.
Have you read this? Have you read the new sequel, The Book of Dust?