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The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Book Name: The Amber Spyglass
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher(s): Knopf Books for Young Readers (US) Scholastic (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: October 10, 2000 (US) March 3, 2011 (UK)

This review contains spoilers. Read with caution if you have yet to finish the book.

That great first love, think Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose, a beautiful notion but a realistic one? Rose was married for sixty odd years after Jack died yet instead of going to the man she spent her life with when she dies she goes to a man she knew for a week. Even Shakespeare didn’t seem convinced by his tragic young couple as he later produced characters like Beatrice and Benedick who show what happens when the initial glow of young love wears off.

To a child and teenagers the idea of your first love lasting forever is easy to accept but as you get older you become a bit more cynical. Enter Will and Lyra. Theirs is a love that develops overtime, even implying they don’t fully realise until the end of the book; which makes it so much more tragic as their time together is so short. Their happiness is so short lived, no sooner have they admitted their love for each other then they must choose to spend the rest of their lifetimes apart. But the tragedy doesn’t end there, after willingly wanting to sacrifice themselves for each other they are actually offered a chance to be together; which they give up for the greater good. Twelve is too young an age to have to give up on love but despite their age you do genuinely believe that neither Will or Lyra will ever marry. They will love each other until the day they die, where they will find each other and bind themselves together for all time.

However, all the great scenes which happen before this oh so tragic end cannot be overlooked. The third instalment opens with Will and Lyra separated but this does allow Will and Iorek to meet each other without the help of Lyra and I found the scene particularly powerful. Two great forces meet, they instantly sense a kindred spirit in the other and a great respect is formed.

There were two other scenes in this section which I found particularly note worthy. Firstly Pullman introduces his readers to a homosexual relationship, which would be controversial in a book for adults, let alone children. Yet Pullman portrays their love story with absolute devotion, which leaves you to think if children can read about these relationships at a young age then perhaps they will be accepting in later life, it may even give young people with homosexual feelings the reassurance they need.

The second scene may have less emotional significance but is a clear sign of the respect Pullman has for his readers. Upon coming across the dead body of his friend Lee Scoresby, Iorek does not have an overly emotional scene but rather eats Lee’s body as he’s starving and is, after all, a polar bear. Just because he is writing a fantasy and one aimed at young people it doesn’t mean Pullman will shy away from these harsh truths.

In my previous review I stated I would withhold my judgement of the ‘ killing God’ plot line and I found myself surprised and very impressed. Not only are we given an extensive battle scene but behind this there is an original and intriguing concept in which God is actually an unimaginably old being who has aged and is neither physically or mentally capable. You are actually led to believe it would be a kindness to let him die and it is the angels and religion who are manipulating him for their own means. Amongst this we are witness to the end of Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter; though each has some redemptive moments Pullman doesn’t offer any resolution for our feelings towards them. They are complex characters and our feelings towards them must remain just as complex.

As well as this we also enter the world of the dead with Lyra and Will and an entirely new realm with Mary Malone; it was these sections of the book I had certain reservations with. The parts with Mary, though very imaginative and original, were almost dull in comparison with the other narratives. It is unclear for a long time why whatever Mary is doing in this realm is significant, especially as she’s been tasked with finding Lyra and Will. However, she seems to cast aside this task in favour of relishing this new life she has found for herself.

The scenes in the land of the dead were far from dull, they were haunting, even depressing but at the same time fascinating. My issue lay in the matter of Roger. Now we can appreciate the guilt Lyra feels in relation to the death of her friend but given all she must sacrifice to find him I just wasn’t convinced he was worth it. It could be a case that the reader wasn’t given enough opportunity to form a connection with Roger and also our feelings for him are overshadowed now by Will, as ghost Roger realises this is also the case when it comes to Lyra. What they achieve whilst down there is significant enough to make their sacrifices worthwhile but in terms of Roger I remain unconvinced.

Within all of this the underlying thread which runs through this book is love. Not just romantic love but the love of friendship, the complex love between a parent and child, the love found in the family you make for yourself a love is stronger than blood. Finally, the love of oneself, ones soul, after all before everything else the love of one’s daemon is the strongest of all. This is an adventure worth taking, tears worth shedding and characters worthy of breaking your heart. Unlike so many books I feel this trilogy is one you could return to again and again and the magic wouldn’t fade.



  1. Avatar Valen Steel says:

    Awesome review!

    So thorough – really enjoyed it! Very intelligent! “His Dark Materials” is one of my favourite book series ever! I’m still patiently *impatiently* waiting for Pullman to publish “The Book of Dust”…

    Wish the “The Golden Compass” film had worked out so that we could have seen an adaption of “The Amber Spyglass”.. It would have been most epic, no doubt… I really enjoyed the film actually, but alas, it was not successful enough.. : ~ ) tis sad …

    Good day !

    — V

    • Avatar KJ Braxton says:

      Thank you very much. I was impressed at how accurate the film was, minus the end with Roger. I’ve been told they didnt make the other two due to there being so much controversey/outrage from the catholic church, but whether that’s true or not I don’t know.

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