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The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials, Book II


The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials, Book II Cover



Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author information that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of The Subtle Knife. The Subtle Knife is Book Two of Philip Pullman's trilogy "His Dark Materials". In Book One, The Golden Compass, young Lyra Belacqua journeys through "a universe like ours but different in many ways." The most striking difference between Lyra's world and ours is the existence of daemons. These spirit-creatures, physical manifestations of the human soul, can change shape until their human companions reach adolescence. Then each daemon settles into the animal form that best reflects the inner nature of its human counterpart.

In The Golden Compass, Lyra discovers that her mother, Mrs. Coulter, is conducting experiments in which children are severed from their daemons, turning them into emotionless, almost inhuman beings. Mrs. Coulter and her colleagues are doing this to learn more about a substance called "Dust, " which seems to accumulate on humans when they reach maturity. While many fear Dust, both Mrs. Coulter and Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, see it as the source of great power. The Golden Compass concludes with Lord Asriel harnessing the power of Dust to create an opening in the atmosphere of his world, forging a bridge to another universe. This he fearlessly crosses, leaving Mrs. Coulter behind. Lyra perceives that Dust is good and vows to discover its secrets with the help of her "golden compass", or alethiometer, a truth-seeking device. And so Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, follow Lord Asriel into the other world.

The Subtle Knife begins in our own world, where Will Parry, driven by curiosity about his mysterious, missing father and concern for his vulnerable, disturbed mother, accidentally kills an intruder. While fleeing, he finds a "window" into a sunlit otherworld. What could be a better refuge than a hidden universe? But this universe is a strange, empty place: a city that seems to have been abandoned in such haste that food is left rotting on plates at a sidewalk cafe. The inhabitants of the city, Cittágazze, have fled from the invading Specters, ghostlike creatures that devour the souls of adults. But Specters are harmless and invisible to children, and soon Will meets another fugitive child in Cittágazze: Lyra. Although he does not know it, their lives are soon to become forever intertwined when Lyra's alethiometer gives her one simple command: Help Will find his father.

The richly imagined world of Book One seems almost quiet and simple when compared to the turmoil of Book Two. Here "Dust" is called "dark matter" and has been joined by a myriad of other complex phenomena, including the Specters and bene elim (angels). One protagonist has been replaced by two, Lyra and Will. Most significant of all, Lyra's truth-giving compass seems to pale in comparison to the power of Will's new acquisition, the subtle knife, the Æsahættr, the knife that will cut ANYTHING. What can it mean to be the bearer of such an instrument?

Product Details

Cover artist:
Ericka Meltzer O'Rourke
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pullman, Philip
New York
Action & Adventure
Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic
Children's 12-Up - Fiction - Fantasy
Action & Adventure - General
Fantasy & Magic
Imaginary places
Children s-Science Fiction and Fantasy
fantasy;fiction;young adult;religion;ya;science fiction;magic;children;adventure;children s;trilogy;novel;his dark materials;children s literature;british;philip pullman;children s fiction;alternate universe;england;atheism;pullman;young adult fiction;20t
fantasy;fiction;young adult;his dark materials;religion;ya;children s;adventure;science fiction;novel;children;magic;children s literature;trilogy;steampunk;alternate universe;children s fiction;british;parallel worlds;england;alternate worlds;coming of a
fantasy;fiction;young adult;religion;ya;science fiction;magic;children;adventure;children s;trilogy;novel;his dark materials;children s literature;british;philip pullman;children s fiction;alternate universe;england;atheism;coming of age;pullman;young adu
Edition Description:
Trade paper
His Dark Materials
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
September 2002
Grade Level:
from 7
8.01x5.26x.90 in. .81 lbs.
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

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Children's » Middle Readers » General
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The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials, Book II Used Trade Paper
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Product details 544 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780375823466 Reviews:
"Review" by , "More than fulfilling the promise of The Golden Compass, this second volume starts off at a heart-thumping pace and never slows down....The grandly exuberant storytelling is sure to enthrall."
"Review" by , "The intricacy of the plot is staggering...There is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating."
"Review" by , "The character development as well as the relentless pace...make this a resoundingly successful will leave readers desperate for the next installment."
"Review" by , "Though this second volume almost succumbs to middle book syndrome, Pullman...avoids it, adroitly, by force of theme....Phillip Pullman measures up; his work is devilishly inventive....Put Philip Pullman on the shelf with Ursula K. LeGuin, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander..."
"Review" by , "Nearly as good as its predecessor....Many fantasy writers fail to appeal to a more general audience because they get so caught up in invention that they neglect to create compelling and complicated characters. Pullman strikes an excellent balance between imagination and verisimilitude, and his major characters are as interesting and human as anyone we would meet in a decent realistic novel.....The Golden Compass has a more original structure than this book does, but Pullman is a skillful writer who doesn't rely on stock elements to do his work for him, using them instead in creative and unexpected ways. Indeed the overarching moral and religious pattern, once revealed, is so shockingly subversive that I was amazed — and intrigued — to find it in a mainstream novel for children."
"Review" by , "As in the first book, the stakes are high and the action is rapid and occasionally violent....The Subtle Knife ends with even more of a cliff-hanger than The Golden Compass, and fans will eagerly await book three for the final resolution."
"Review" by , "The powerful second installment....[V]intage Pullman..."
"Review" by , "Just as quick-moving and unputdownable as [The Golden Compass]....The mysteries deepen and the wonders grow even more extravagant."
"Review" by , "These first two volumes of [the] His Dark Materials trilogy are, simply, magnificent. Pullman has the power of a master fantasist. He imbues an age-old classical struggle with a new mythic vision, the depth and realization of which are staggering."
"Synopsis" by , In Book II of the Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra finds herself in a shimmering, haunted otherworld. New cover art and chapter-opening illustrations by Pullman himself highlight this new paperback edition.
"Synopsis" by , The most magnificent fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings.” --The Oregonian

Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will--a boy on the run, a murderer--a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.

Each is searching--Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father--but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, their destinies are bound together . . . until they are split apart.


A #1 New York Times Bestseller

A Newsweek Top 100 Book of All Time

An Entertainment Weekly All-Time Greatest Novel


“The story gallops with ferocious momentum.” --The New York Times Book Review

“Pullman’s imagination soars. . . . A literary rollercoaster ride you won’t want to miss.” --The Boston Globe

“Destined to become a classic.” --Detroit Free Press

The Subtle Knife is as absorbing and irresistible as The Golden Compass--and even more so, as powerful forces are set in motion. A brilliantly conceived work.” --Lloyd Alexander, author of the Prydain Chronicles, and Newbery Medalist for The High King

"Synopsis" by , We are releasing an updated trade-paper box set of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy with eye-catching new art from Cliff Nielsen. With glowing special effects, the new trade paperback editions will stand out on the shelves among other YA bestsellers and draw in new Pullman fans.

Published in 50 countries with over 22 million copies sold, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass are renowned for their engrossing storytelling and epic scope. These modern classics are must-reads for every book lover.

His Dark Materials is the story of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children with extraordinary roles to play in a more-than-mortal battle that will impact all the worlds.

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