Book Review: The Amber Spyglass

‘All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity…’

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When you find yourself at the wrong side of thirty, it is rare to tumble down a pop culture rabbit hole in the same way as you would as a teenager say. If it’s out there, you have probably already discovered it by now. When you do stumble upon something new then it is all the more enriching. It is from this viewpoint that I review The Amber Spyglass, as a wide eyed newcomer to an already established world…

Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass is the third and final book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and it is also the most ambitious. The book begins with all the main characters in disarray. Lyra has been captured by Mrs Coulter, Will is reeling from the death of his father and Lord Asriel is preparing for war. This makes for a disorientating introduction but the sheer quality of Pullman’s prose ensures that the ride is never too bumpy, even for a monkey brained fool such as myself. As the longest book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass takes a bit longer to get going, but once the action begins it is pretty much relentless until the beautifully rendered conclusion.

The idea of parallel universes was touched upon in The Subtle Knife but that is nothing compared to the mind bending concepts and deep theological cuts that define The Amber Spyglass. Lyra and Will’s trip to the land of the dead is one of the most stunningly philosophical scenes in any book and it is exciting to think how the BBC plan to bring such an imaginative passage to the small screen in 2019.

It could be argued that the His Dark Materials trilogy began as a story for children but there is no doubt that by its grandiose conclusion it has transcended the idea of children’s literature to become much more. All three books taken as a whole are as dramatic as anything in the Game of Thrones books and as exciting as all of Tolkien’s work on Middle Earth.  Philip Pullman has crafted a world that is the equal of anything else that has been produced in the genre of fantasy.

The upcoming BBC adaptation, if it gets things right, should be the thing that propels the His Dark Materials franchise to the same level as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Read these magical books now before they are everywhere. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

For a review of Northern Lights, click here.

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