The Subtle Knife
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book in this series was my favorite. The plot and the world and the characters all got bigger, and Pullman’s storytelling stayed just as immersive and engaging. The second book begins to merge the fantasy world from the first book with our modern world, and as we meet new characters we’re pulled in very thoroughly.

I do feel like I should say something about the ideas in the book, since that’s why this series is famous. This second book introduces the antitheism that’s gotten it so much (negative) attention. Pullman creates a world where God’s existence is an undisputed reality rather than an issue of faith, but he paints God as a tyrant responsible for oppressing and for taking away freedom and happiness. He relies heavily on the symbolism from the Garden of Eden, sympathizing with Eve for being cast out because of her choice. Of course most Christians condemn Adam and Eve for their transgression, so I can understand how people would be shocked by the role-reversal of a praised Eve and a vilified God.

As a Mormon I already revere Adam and Eve for their choice in the Garden, so I agreed when Pullman painted a world where they were right to choose knowledge and choice and happiness even if it meant leaving paradise. It’s just that I believe in a God who also values knowledge and choice and happiness and not in one that restricts those things. For me it was still shocking to read God described as a tyrant, but I recognize that is mostly because Pullman uses names that are sacred to me and describes that person doing things that I don’t believe my God would do. That said, I think that if you’re willing to examine the ideas that the author presents rather than just the names he gives to them, you’ll find that there’s nothing to be offended at.

Unlike a lot of books that push a philosophy, Pullman doesn’t come off as preachy. He tells his story through a lot of realistic and complicated characters. The reader is sometimes just as unsure about who is right and who to trust as the young protagonists are.

All in all the story and the telling of it was excellent. The ideas the story presents are really intriguing and you may have your opinions about them. But regardless of your personal beliefs, at the heart of this book you’ll find what is simply an undeniably well-told fantasy story.

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