“What he couldn’t say was that he longed for his father as a lost child yearns for home. That comparison wouldn’t have occurred to him, because home was the place he kept safe for his mother, not the place others kept safe for him.”
As a kid, I was really into this book. I ran across it in the library one day, years after I read the first one. I loved the whole parallel universes jag, and it was undercut with this darkness most of my reading material lacked, but that I found fascinating. I also loved Will (and still do), and remain fascinated with the idea of the subtle knife, and the price paid to wield it.
But I will admit on this read-through that this book is definitely the weakest of the series. As a part of a larger story, it’s great, but as its own thing, it’s somewhat lacking. It just doesn’t have as strong of an arc as the first book, and the “plot” is scattered across multiple narrators, which dilutes the experience a little. If we had only followed Will, though, we would have missed out on most of the book, so I get why he did it that way.
Thematically, Pullman continues to obsess over authority and parental figures. We learn here that Lord Asriel’s plan is to go up against the creator himself, whom they call the Authority, so that’s obviously the big instance here. I can’t remember why he wants to do this, and it’s not elaborated on here, but the center of this one is actually Will and his relationship with his parents: His mother, who he has to take care of, and his father, who he doesn’t remember, and has to find in order to “take up his mantle.” Pullman consistently sets good parents (or lacking or missing ones) up against ones who abuse their authority and responsibility, like Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel. Pseudo-parental figures pop up everywhere, from Lee Scoresby (who says he views Lyra as a daughter) to Serafina Pekkala, even to the men and women in the Specter-haunted world of Cittagaze, whose children descend into violence without someone to protect them and care for them.
All in all, still a good read, I just wish it had been fleshed out a little bit more, and this felt a little bit less like a transition book and more like a full story in its own right.