Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Lowdown: Lyra’s third and final adventure.
There is a first for everything, and when I sought to read my first paper book since receiving my ebook reader (for the simple reason I’ve exhausted the list of urgent reads on my Kindle), the first book that came to mind was the final in a trilogy I started reading two years ago. The first of the series, The Golden Compass, was a magnificent read; the second, The Subtle Knife, was the opposite - quite the disappointment. So much so I left the conclusion of the series to a time when curiosity takes the better of me: now.
Am I happy with my choice? No. The Amber Spyglass, the series’ final, has more in common with the second episode than the first. If anything, it reminded me of the Harry Potter series: a very promising and imaginative start turning into a tedious effort to seal things through in an artificially set number of books.
The plot starts off in a similar manner to the way Subtle Knife started. That is, straight from where the previous episode left us: Lyra, the twelve year old heroine and reader of the Golden Compass is the captive of her evil mother while Will, the similarly aged escapee from our world and bearer of the inter-world portal creating Subtle Knife is dragging his feet across mountains and plains to rescue her. As the plot in this rather thick book thickens we get one suspenseful peak followed by another, in between which we learn of an impending battle between the forces of the Church and the forces of the rebellious Azriel (Lyra’s father) who asks to rid the world(s) of its burden. Lyra and Will are prophesized to carry key roles in this battle, hence they become key targets for both sides, which puts them in dire straits till the point Lyra is meant to make a decision that would alter life as we know it.
While the story is mostly thrilling it does sag for significant lengths, especially in its middle where our heroes go on a special quest at the Land of the Dead. Why do they go there in the first place is a good question that is never properly addressed by the book (unless you count dreams and promises made long before and under totally different circumstances good enough). Even worse is the way the various climaxes are handled: twice, to name but a single type of malpractice, The Amber Spyglass has our heroes rescued by third parties popping out of nowhere; that’s not exactly good story telling. On other times characters are able to achieve "off screen" (that is, without the book telling us exactly what they've been doing) much more than what I would call possible.
By far the worst offence the book can claim to is that magical dilemma Lyra is supposed to face which would change the fate of the world as we know it. As far as I am concerned, that simply never happened; and if you were to point at a certain choice Lyra and Will end up making at the end of the book as The One, I will answer that it is the type of choice many people in this world are making all the time. I made the same choice when I moved to leave everything behind and went to live on the other side of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, The Amber Spyglass is not a total non event. Obviously, it deals with the freedom to live a life unshackled by religion and similar burdens, a life where life itself (as opposed to the afterlife) is the main event. One can argue the book is a free thinker’s story of legend, but I will argue that if I want to read free thinkers’ prose I will be better off elsewhere. Like, say, reading vastly superior The God Delusion. Unlike The Amber Spyglass, that is a book that deals with religion without getting down to its level.
Overall: A disappointing final to an overall disappointing series at 2.5 out of 5 stars. On the positive side, I discovered paper books are still perfectly readable (good for me, as I have a huge inventory of unread ones on my shelves).


Phillip H. Tang said...

I agree. Such a promising storyline and start with The Golden Compass that quickly turned sour. The ending especially was disappointing.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I enjoyed reading your reviews for the trilogy's books (the one for The Amber Spyglass is at: http://phtreviews.blogspot.com/2009/09/philip-pullman-amber-spyglass-his-dark.html ).
Most of all I enjoyed seeing how similar our reaction to the trilogy was as we went along reading each of its books...

P.S. I would love someone explaining the whole thing about Eve to me, because I am obviously unable to figure out how Lyra became Eve.

Uri said...

it was really disappointing. I read all three one after another, and because I enjoyed the first one so much, it took me more than half way through the third one to realize I was not having fun any more.

usually, when the first part is vastly superior to the subsequent ones, it's becasue it was written long before, with the others added on in an effort to cash in. That's not the case here though.