This review contains spoilers for The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.
The Amber Spyglass is the final novel in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It tells the tale of Lyra Silvertongue and Will Parry as they come of age. While the first book solely focused on Lyra, the second and third branch out to a range of characters that are intended to convey a range of themes to the reader.
With Lyra captured by her mother and Will’s father dead, the pieces are drawing to their climactic points in which the series reaches its conclusion. New species of sentient races are introduced as the many-worlds element is further explored. The story seems to converge, then split, as Will and Lyra stop at certain points and then move on.
Too many subplots and characters ruin the solidity of the plot
The characters are notably less fun in this book, owing more to the fact that the setting is darker and more urgent, but the character development is superb. The reader watches as Lyra and Will go from the confident braggadocio of childhood to the awkwardness of the teenage years. The condensed storyline speeds up this process. Pullman handles it deftly at first, but it falls into an entropic state as the plot progresses.
The fact that there are so many characters, both supporting and viewpoint, spreads Pullman’s writing thin. As with many series that balance a range of viewpoint characters, there are some you love, some you hate, and others that you find completely uninteresting.
This spread-out feeling gave a lot of the story an inconsistent and sometimes frivolous nature. In a series that should convey an epic storyline, the conclusion must be as riveting as possible. But the loose subplots that seemed almost scattered throughout this novel ruined the experience for me.
Dr. Mary Mallone, the nun-turned-physicist, was one of the most interesting characters in the story. Her story was somewhat out of the way from the main arc for the majority of the story while somehow remaining both relevant and interesting to the worlds at large. Her backstory and drive put the scope of the novel in focus.
An underwhelming final battle
While combat was never the focus of the series, I cannot help but feel that the final battle that the series has been leading towards is very disappointing. It was short and rather vague in most aspects. The convening elements that had been prepping for war clashed in such a short space that it was underwhelming, to say the least.
A shakily written conclusion
The ending of His Dark Materials is shakily written. It packs all the emotion, growth and thematic power of the series into a staggering conclusion full of convenient and unexplored ideas. The Amber Spyglass is an enjoyable book at face value but is in no way as well written or as rich as the first two novels.
Why should you read this book?
If you enjoyed the first two books, The Amber Spyglass will provide closure, if shakily rendered, to the series. Nonetheless, it is still an interesting book that continues many of the things that were great about the first two books.