Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
~Milton’s Paradise Lost
The Amber Spyglass is the third book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It continues the story of Lyra and Will, two young adolescents with extraordinary powers. Lyra’s power is that she can read the althiometer, first described in The Golden Compass. With the althiometer, Lyra can find the answer to any question she can think of, from something as basic as where to find someone who is lost, to whether it is right or wrong to go into the afterlife and try to rescue the ghosts of everyone who has ever lived.
Will wields the Subtle Knife. with which he can cut doors between worlds. Lyra and Will come from different worlds, in a multiverse based on the concept that worlds split off from one another, and these universes continue to develop parallel to one another. Some universes are more parallel than others. For example, Will comes from our universe, or one almost exactly like it, and lives in Oxford, England. Lyra also lives in Oxford, but in her universe, there are no automobiles, and a person’s soul lives outside of their body, in the form of an animal, called a daemon. Other universes are very different, such as the one inhabited by the mulafa, an intelligent race of beings that look something like elephants, though they have evolved to travel by attaching large wheel-like pods from trees to their feet.
I really enjoyed The Golden Compass, and my favorite book in the series was The Subtle Knife. The friendship that develops between Lyra and Will is wonderful to watch, and their characters are well thought out and have a lot of depth. I’m sorry to say that The Amber Spyglass was my least favorite book of the trilogy. Perhaps it tries to do too much, but it had a somewhat disjointed feel to it, and was a bit heavy handed in its treatment of religious metaphors. In that way, it reminded me of my least favorite of the Narnia Series, The Last Battle. Where The Last Battle was overtly religious, and The Amber Spyglass was overtly atheistic (or at least agnostic…there is a suggestion somewhere that perhaps there was a creator), they both tried too hard, in my mind, to hit you over the head with their main point.
The overall message was fairly traditional, that love conquers all, that it is our responsibility to use power for good, and that personal sacrifice for the betterment of all is sacrifice well made. The fight between good and evil was represented in new and interesting ways, though the end was somewhat simplistic and disappointing. I would recommend this book, because the series is incomplete without it, as The Subtle Knife ended with a cliffhanger. But this book doesn’t stand up, in my mind, as well as either of the other two books in the trilogy.
The Amber Spyglass was long listed for the 2001 Man Booker Prize, and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, as well as the British Book Award, and was an ALA Notable Book.