Sunday, November 4, 2007

Review of The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass is the third book in the His Dark Materials series. (I was going to say it was also the final book, but apparently Philip Pullman is writing a fourth book in the series called The Book of Dust.) While it was still a good book that I did not regret reading, I felt it was the weakest book in the series. There were many interesting ideas in this book, but the end just did not live up to my expectations. It was one of those books that had the potential to be excellent, but I put it down after reading the last sentence feeling like it should have been so much better than it was.

The story picks up where The Subtle Knife left off. After snatching Lyra, Mrs. Coulter hides her in the mountains and keeps her in a deep sleep. Will and Ama, a girl who brought food and supplies to Mrs. Coulter, sneak into the cave where Lyra is being kept and wake her from the drug-induced sleep. During her sleep, Lyra dreamed of speaking to Roger in the Land of the Dead and she and Will decide to go to this land.

Meanwhile, Mary Malone settles for a time in a world inhabited by beings called mulefa. The mulefa appear to be animals at first, but in fact are intelligent. Mary learns to communicate with the mulefa, and they ask for her help in saving a type of tree they are very dependent upon. While in this world, Mary constructs a spyglass that allows her to see Dust.

This book could have, in my opinion, been a bit shorter. The beginning was slow and hard to get into, parts of the middle dragged, and there was a lot more description in this book than the previous two. Description does not always bother me, but in this case it did because the series was about plot and action and all the exposition did little to advance the plot or enhance the story. The prose was well-written, but sometimes fewer words would have made the book flow a lot better.

The characters were better developed than in the previous books since some of the lines between good and evil were a bit blurrier here. However, the characters (other than Lyra) did seem fairly generic and lacking in distinct personality traits. Some of the changes in character were rushed and not very convincing. This is not surprising to me, since young adult novels generally focus more on plot and not as much on character development, but I always find a lack of good characterization disappointing.

This book continued to put a lot of emphasis on the evils of organized religion, particularly Catholicism. The way religion was woven into the storyline was a very fascinating idea with a lot of potential, but in the end, a lot of the themes were emphasized more than the story. The prophecies mentioned earlier in the book or series ended up having very anticlimactic conclusions, particularly the parallel between events in this book and the fall of Adam and Eve. The ending did not seem particularly satisfying or fitting to me.

Although I found this book to be a bit disappointing, I still enjoyed it and found it worth my time. The major problem I had with this book was that it had so much potential to be outstanding, but ultimately, it was merely a good book and nothing exceptional.



Tasha said...

I enjoyed The Amber Spyglass, but I didn't want Lyra to fall in love with Will. I really liked watching her and Pantalaimon evolve, and for me, theirs was the only relationship that needed to be explored. Overall, though, I'm so glad I read His Dark Materials - it was very cool, and I love the idea of daemons.

Kristen said...

I was glad I read this series as well, although I enjoyed the first two books more than the last one. Daemons were a very interesting idea, and I hope Pullman explores them further when he writes the last book.

Thanks for stopping by. :)

V- said...

I finished the book last week, and just like you, I could not swallow the ending. I wonder how PP will pick it up from there with a fourth book?! It's ruined it for me.
Now I am looking for something to read next, and I'm so glad I just discovered your blog! I hope you can point me to an excellent book with a satifying conclusion! =o)

Kristen said...

I keep wondering how Pullman will tie in a fourth book as well. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, it still seemed very final and like a good place to end the book.

Too few books have satisfying conclusions, unfortunately. My definition of "satisfying" is rarely "happy" when it comes to endings - it needs to feel real to me and if it's too neatly wrapped up and everything works out for the best, it doesn't feel that way. I like conclusions like the one in Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana or Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn.

Thanks for stopping by. :)

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed it... The ending was sad. I especially thought it was sad when Lyra had to leave Pan on the shores of the land of the dead. Did Mary Malone tempt Lyra? I don't remember that she actually 'Played the Serpent'. Cool book though.