Review: The Amber Spyglass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Overall “Amber Spyglass” is a fitting but anticlimactic ending to the “His Dark Materials” series. If you’ve read the first two books and enjoyed them, you’ll probably find the third book worthwhile, but disappointing.
The theme of the third book is that an afterlife isn’t necessary for people to have comfort and to be motivated to improve the world that we live in. I think it’s actually pretty brilliant how Pullman takes all of his various plot lines and ties them back to this point. The more I think about it the more I realize how well the ideas of the book fit together into this cohesive message of hope that didn’t depend on an afterlife.
While I personally find my faith in an afterlife very comforting, I don’t begrudge comfort to those that need to find it another way. More importantly for me, I think that the tangential ideas of moving on after a tragedy and of making the world better in this life are things that are moving and meaningful to theist and atheists alike.
Pullman is actually pretty gentle with this message, building it slowly through multiple pieces, instead of throwing it in your face. Of the three books in this series, it’s definitely the second book that has the most potential to be offensive to Christians. If you were able to get through the second book without getting upset, then you won’t be troubled by this final book.
While I don’t think you’ll need to worry about being offended by the book, you may need to worry about being bored.
As the story progresses more characters and fantasy worlds keep being introduced. The new characters and settings just aren’t as engaging as the originals, so there are long sections where I felt bored because I didn’t really care about what was going on in that section. Not only that, but the new worlds and characters are so varied that it starts feeling very incohesive, and to me the previous atmosphere of the setting gets lost in the circus of the new settings.
The pace is also much slower and more dragged out. There were multiple points in the book where I thought “ok, now the story’s resolved”, or “ok, this time it’s really over”, only to find that I wasn’t yet near the end. It was kind of hard to keep going when I felt like the conflict was over and there was nothing left to resolve.
In the end I’m glad to have read the whole thing because of how well all of the pieces fit together when it was done. I do wish it’d been as engaging and entertaining as his other books instead of being a chore to finish.