This is the book that concludes Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy, and it is the most complex of the three. In Northern Lights we are introduced to the recognisable but different Oxford of Lyra Belaqua’s world with a self-contained, developed, adventure of the best kind. In The Subtle Knife we discover how Lyra’s Oxford is linked to our own, and to another world that is both as alien to Lyra and Will as it is to ourselves. The Amber Spyglass shows us there are a myriad of worlds out there.
Particularly during the Mary Malone sections, this novel could almost be an introductory reader to anthropology as we learn about other the language and cultures of these other worlds. But this a book that at it’s heart takes on religion and the church head-to-head, and which pits Lyra against her parents too. She must travel between multiple worlds and even face her own death in order to arrive at her bittersweet ending in which both Lyra and Will discover that their own, individual stories are not quite finished yet.
At times I do find this book too complex, too knowing, for its own good. It also falls into the classic failing that fantasy books fall into, in that characters are given the ability to do something purely in order to fulfil a purpose, which once achieved is an ability that is lost to them. One of the finest moments on the original Northern Lights was that Lyra was able to ‘read’ the alethiometer, and I am disappointed to discover that that was a gift that was only ‘given’ to her for the purposes of the three books.