Book review

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2000)

So now, if you've read this far, in book three you are about to discover Lord Asriel's dark and spectacular intent.

A storm is brewing, a war of the greatest magnitude imaginable. If you remember, at the end of Northern Lights, Lord Asriel used Lyra's friend Roger - killed Roger in fact - to release a huge bolt of energy which Asriel needed to create a bridge into a different world. Now we see Asriel settled in a barren place. From his adamant tower he draws to himself supporters and armed forces from every place. He has Angels, Humans and Gallivespians on his side, armoured bears and witch-clans, technicians and scientists, aircraft and weapons.

His enemy is the Authority himself. That is how they refer to God. God resides in the Clouded Mountain which drifts slowly but purposefully towards Asriel's basalt fortress to join in battle. We learn that God is withdrawn and decrepit, and that power resides in Metatron, the regent. Once a man, once an angel, Metatron now intends to intervene directly in human life. Asriel perceives this as a permanent Inquisition, or Court of Discipline, staffed by spies and traitors. Every conscious being, in every world, would live in fear of Metatron.

How will Lyra and Will choose to act?

And if Lyra and Will, with the help of many others, succeed in terminating the Kingdom of God, doesn't the story turn full-cycle and end up back where it started all those thousands of years ago at the birth of mankind? In Oxford's Botanical Garden, Lyra and Will, full of a new self-consciousness, full of love for each other, face a new temptation, just as Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Whether to stay together, and risk the gradual destruction of their worlds which would inevitably follow from keeping the portals to their worlds open, or whether to separate for ever and return to their own worlds.

There are some difficult ideas in this book, aren't there? God is dead. What happens next? Must Lyra and Will simply go home resolving to build a good and joyful life without the guidance of the discredited church? For the one thing that has become clear during the telling of this tale is that life is here and now, on earth, while we have strong bodies and clear senses. There is no point waiting for a better life in the hereafter. Philip Pullman has taken us to visit the Angels, and to visit the dead, and we know that they all envy the strength and vigour of the living body:

' ... We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and brave and patient, and we've got to study and think, and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds ... '

This is an exhilarating trilogy full of challenging ideas and almost overwhelming imagination. Read it. I'm sure you'll love it.

What can I read next?

This book is the third of a trilogy. You must read them in order:

If you really enjoy Philip Pullman, I think you might like to look at this atmospheric longer-length fantasy/reality by Jan Mark:

David Almond writes beautiful stories which start off in reality and end up in total fantasy, and the transition is so smooth you can't see the join:

And there is a compelling sequence of four books by Ursula Le Guin about a powerful young wizard with a flawed personality, all set in a complete world of its own:

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