Book Review

His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife Book Review

His Dark Materials (three-in-one edition) by Philip Pullman

After finishing Northern Lights, I wanted a little break before diving into The Subtle Knife. Granted, that little break ended up being a week, and nearly two weeks if I hadn’t sat myself down and started reading. Thanks to self-isolation/social distancing, I was able to sit down and read about 50 pages a day, so as you can imagine, catching up and finishing it was a relatively easy task. Especially once the plot picked up again.

I’m taking another mini break to process what’s happened so far before I dive back into the weirdness that I know is still to come. I’m sure it’ll suck me back in almost instantaneously cos it felt like the book shouldn’t have ended where it did. It almost feels like it ended mid scene, which is never a good idea.

Synopsis

Lyra Belacqua meets Will Parry in a world neither have been to, but which acts as a safe space between the two worlds, both of which have their own dangers to the pair. They overcome obstacles together and come to trust one another as they realise their fates are now intertwined, and everything rests on them and the decisions they make.

First Impressions

What the hell? No seriously, what’s going on? I can see what people mean when they say this series gets weird, and I can also see why religious people don’t like the series because I suspect a massive dig is coming towards the church/religion. But I’m still insanely curious for an explanation that I sincerely hope is coming.

What I Like

  • I like Lyra and Will’s friendship – they learned how to help and trust one another, especially now they know their fates are intertwined
  • The perspective changes were helpful – they told us what was happening elsewhere that helped move the plot along and give us more info about Lyra & Will’s fate
  • I’m still insanely curious about Dust – the Spectres seek it out and suck it out of you in Cittàgazze, while the Magisterium fear it in Lyra’s world, but what is it exactly?

What I Didn’t Like

  • Spoiler alert: Will had no time with his father – he’s spent his whole life searching for his father and you couldn’t even give them five minutes to reunite? Come on!
  • The kids just stoning that poor cat – there wasn’t any good reason for them doing so! That poor cat didn’t deserve such mistreatment

Writing Element Thoughts

Have I mentioned Philip Pullman is a brilliant writer? Because he is. He created an alternative world that I could properly visualise thanks to his stunning descriptions. Cittàgazze sounds like a wondrous place, if I knew I wouldn’t die thanks to Spectres, and sounds exactly like a Mediterranean place I’ve been to before. Also, little point to add: Spectres sound horrific, but the way Philip Pullman describes them, they sound like creepy ghosts. I can’t wait to see how they’ll show them in the TV adaptation!

The story moved mostly seamlessly through once again, and the perspective changes helped move the plot along. While the obstacles were overcome thanks to the alethiometer and the subtle knife, the subtle knife feels borderline invincible. It can transport them through worlds, cut through anything and protects the wielder. How the hell can you beat that?! No wonder the church are adamant about obtaining it! Plus, I did think the ending was a bit rushed, as if the book wasn’t supposed to finish there, because everything just seemed to happen so suddenly.

The characterisation is still wonderful. Each character continues to play their part in the story, which is now focused on helping Lyra and Will fulfil their roles in their destiny. Granted, while most the characters were complex, I don’t see the point in Carlos Boreal’s character, and [SPOILER ALERT] I’m really disappointed we didn’t get more time with John Parry reuniting with his son. That could’ve been so beautiful! But I also understand why it did happen that way since reality can often be that cruel, to part a father and son before they can acknowledge each other. It’s just tragic and unfair, but so is reality, which I can’t criticise him for, I suppose (watch me do it anyway).

Overall Thoughts

I’m taking a mini break to process what’s happened so far, then I’m gonna dive head first into the weirdness of The Amber Spyglass. I can feel a massive dig at the church/religion coming, which is gonna be interesting, and hopefully an explanation about Dust. Guess we’ll have to see.

Book Review

His Dark Materials: Northern Lights Book Review

His Dark Materials (three-in-one edition) by Philip Pullman

I watched the BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials and felt a burning desire to start reading the series because I need to know what happens next. However, my brother had the same idea, and that’s where the drama started.

I purposefully bought and read The Giver of Stars to give my brother time to read the first book and get started on the series. Like planned, he read the first book, but then chose to read a non-fiction book next. Knowing I wanna read a book per month and I’d obviously want to read the second book next, he’s suddenly decided he wants to read it too. You see, he told me he wants to alternate between reading a fiction book and a non-fiction book AFTER I’d already begun the first book and had invested myself in the series. If he’d told me this BEFORE I’d started, I could’ve read The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary and waited (im)patiently for him to be done.

Since my mum bought the movie cover (for the first book) and broke the spines on all three books, which are both no-no’s for me, I decided to buy the bulky three-in-one edition. It means I don’t have to wait for my brother to be done. Plus, it’s all mine, so I don’t have to worry about a broken spine or a movie/TV show cover. Also, the cover is gorgeous (😍) and gives clues about each book, which has intrigued me.

Synopsis

Lyra Belacqua has a destiny ahead of her she must remain unaware of.

When her best friend Roger goes missing, she undergoes a difficult quest to find him and bring him home safely. Along the way, she discovers who her parents are, makes new friends in Iorek Byrnison, Lee Scoresby and the Gytians, and becomes ever involved in the mystery of Dust. Overcoming obstacles and dodging near death experiences, Lyra Belacqua has a tumultuous journey ahead, but it’ll bring her closer to her destiny…

First Impressions

The book is slow moving and confusing to begin with, but the world building enriches the story so well that I’m willing to look past it. Dæmons, alethiometer and Dust are all fantastic concepts explained in such an interesting way, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll be used in the other books.

What I Like

  • The explanation for how the alethiometer worked – I liked the in depth explanation and gave me an understanding of how it worked because the TV show didn’t really go into detail about it
  • The underlying message about the church – as a history nerd, I know how much power the church used to have over society, so I’m very interested and curious how far they’re gonna go with dismantling it all
  • Lyra receiving help along the way, but also finding her own solutions – her entire quest wasn’t easy from start to finish, but she used her own intelligent to escape situations just as much as she relied upon other people/beings

What I Didn’t Like

  • Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter are terrible parents – I understand their reasons for doing what they’re doing, but at the expense of their own child? No wonder Lyra wants nothing to do with them
  • Spoiler alert: Roger’s death – As I was reading his death, I was so confused. I know Lord Asriel did a thing, but I’m not sure what that thing was, and I have no idea what Lyra was doing. Did she stumble and fall? Were they running down the mountain? Also, I didn’t have enough of an emotional investment to feel sad when he died

Writing Element Thoughts

Philip Pullman is a fantastic writer. He created this alternate reality where our souls are tethered to dæmons and the bridge to alternate realities is via a city in the sky, which is just brilliant. I’m still so intrigued by Dust and what it all means, although I’m a little hesitant about what the overall message will be.

The story follows the typical narrative, and I honestly didn’t even notice. I could probably tell you what the inciting incident and the climax are, but I couldn’t tell you the rest because it just flows so seamlessly. The obstacles weren’t forcibly placed, and they were overcome with some level of difficulty. Lyra always had help along the way, but she also came up with her own solutions for escaping the obstacles, which made it all the more believable and helped carry the plot.

The characterisation is wonderful. Each character has their own personality, and their dæmons reflect that beautifully (with the exception of Iorek Byrnison). I loved how complex the characters were, and they all wanted to help Lyra fulfil her destiny, with the exception of Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter, both of whom were the antagonists of this story. They seemed a bit too two dimensional, but they also didn’t feature much in the book, so I’m intrigued to see if their characters are developed more as we go along.

Overall Thoughts

Despite knowing what would happen, I still enjoyed seeing how the book differed from the TV adaptation, and reading the explanation for the alethiometer. I’m excited to see where the story goes, although my mum claims it gets weird, which has only further ignited my curiosity. Onto The Subtle Knife!

Book Review

The Giver of Stars Book Review

'The Giver of Stars' book by Jojo Moyes on top of a spotty light grey and dark grey fabric
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

I’ll often wander into a Waterstones to see what new releases they’re advertising and see if anything jumps out of me. I have this affinity for stars, so naturally, I was drawn to the book and contemplated buying it. Weeks later, I finally took the plunge and bought it upon reading the prologue and finding myself itching to know what happens next.

Synopsis

Set during the post Depression era (1930s), Alice Wright marries Bennett Van Cleve, hoping to escape her stifling life in the UK for a vibrant, adventurous life in the USA. However, as she settles into the Van Cleve house in Kentucky, she soon realises she’s escaped one imprisoning life for another. Needless to say, when Mrs Brady calls for volunteers to help out in a travelling library, Alice leaps at the chance to do something with her miserable life.

She forms a quick and strong friendship with Miss Margery O’Hare, who has a less than stellar reputation, and finds herself going through a turbulent journey as she forms new friendships, has her relationship tested and comes out a different woman to the Alice who entered Kentucky.

First Impressions

The prologue sold me, and I was itching to discover how this all happened, only to be brought three months earlier to an entirely different character, which then spent a good chapter or two just setting everything up. Frustrating, to say the least! However, while it was slow moving, the writing style kept me captivated, and I did feel sympathetic towards Alice from the get go.

What I Like

  • Alice’s story arc, from being an obedient British woman to a self-assured, independent southern American – it was refreshing to see her be given the freedom to become the woman she always wanted to be
  • Margery O’Hare, who refused to give a damn what anyone thought of her, gave Van Cleve a piece of her mind, was vulnerable and afraid in the jail, and was tender and loving with Sven and Virginia – all of it contributed to a wonderful three-dimensional character who did what she needed to to survive, but allowed herself to be vulnerable and open her heart up
  • The librarians and the strong friendship they formed with each other and with the mountain people – after all, a community is built on strong relationships with one another, and it was wonderful to see how much reading changed their lives, as well as how far they’d go to help one another
  • I loved how everyone got a happy ending – while I do think the ending was a bit too convenient, I’m very happy Margery O’Hare got her happy ending because she definitely deserved it, as did Alice and Fred

What I Didn’t Like

  • How Bennett’s character was reduced to a plot device – considering how the plot centres around Alice being married to him, his character mattered so little to the overall plot that you could’ve removed his character and the story literally wouldn’t have changed
  • How Mr Van Cleve was reduced to a two-dimensional wicked man – Mr Van Cleve is the stereotypical, two-dimensional villain, which means he acts as a permanent obstacle rather than a character I feel anything towards
  • How convenient everything felt towards the end – I love a happy ending as much as the next person, but it seemed too convenient to have a law like that allow a marriage to be annulled, for a surprise witness to wrap everything up so neatly, and for Beth to just magically travel to India (where did that even come from?!)
  • How badly women and POC were treated back then – I always struggle to read historical fiction because it always angers me how mistreated people were back then, and even though things aren’t great even still, it’s a lot better than it was

Writing Element Thoughts

God, I love her writing style. It has a descriptiveness to it that captures my attention and helps me envision what she’s writing so wonderfully. I could honestly read her writing forever.

The story followed the traditional story narrative, starting from an inciting incident and following through to the resolution. I will say, the climax felt anti-climatic because it felt rushed and quite convenient, but I’m also a sucker for a happy ending. The plot kept consistently presenting challenges and obstacles for the characters to deal with, alongside doses of positivity to give the characters some hope and happiness. The obstacles never felt too challenging that they couldn’t overcome it, especially with help from each other, or unrealistic in what they had to overcome given the time period it’s set in.

The characterisation was mostly great. I loved the character growth with several of the characters, but especially Alice and Margery O’Hare, who seemed to reverse roles in a way. Alice, who kept herself subservient to her husband like a good lady should, became a self-assured woman, maturing through her trials and tribulations. Margery O’Hare, who kept herself cold-hearted and isolated for survival, became a tender, loving wife and mother and opened herself up to her newfound friends. Alice became less afraid and more open to the freedom she’d been granted, and Margery became more afraid and less closed off from those around her, especially Sven.

Moreover, watching Issy change from a grumpy, disabled woman to a confident, mature woman who defied her parents, Kathleen change from a devoted wife get over her grief to help out in a time of need, Sophia leave the safety of her house as a WOC to help a white library, and Beth… well, stay the same, it was lovely to see Alice and Margery surrounded by solid friends who did go above and beyond for them all the time. But it wasn’t just the women: Fred and Sven deserve equal amounts of praise for presenting how a good man behaves, even despite their flaws, and who stood by their partners regardless of the consequences. I only wish Van Cleve had dealt with more consequences for his actions, but in a way, it’s fitting that yet again, a powerful white man gets away with it (like nowadays).

Overall Thoughts

I’m now educated on the WPA Packhorse Library, in the same way they educated the mountain people who couldn’t easily access the necessary resources. Despite the slow start, I formed an attachment to the characters and I’m grateful they all got the happy ending they deserved (except Van Cleve, who really should’ve had more consequences for his actions). The overall narrative/plot and writing style created an engaging story that kept me hooked until the very end.

I’d definitely recommend reading it, to educate yourself about the WPA Packhorse Library, or to see what the power of a solid friendship can do when you’re feeling imprisoned by your life.