The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) - Philip Pullman

(last in the His Dark Materials series)
The third and last book, The Amber Spyglass is somewhat longer, and also takes place across several worlds. Pullman's writing is very engaging and I often found myself staying up too late reading it. However, my initial suspicions that the books would take a heretical turn were correct; it's like a Wrinkle in Time series for disenchanted Catholics. (One of the characters is even an ex-nun.) The writing is excellent, but it seems Pullman is trying to make a case for humanism, environmentalism, and atheism all at once, arguing that each is necessary for the others to work. For a young reader, I would think this series is much more dangerous and raises more difficult questions than the Harry Potter books, but it would also be a good series to provoke discussion. As for the story itself: Pullman introduces a host of new characters in the third book, and a few new worlds, including one which is completely different from our own. Also, the characters of Lyra and Will continue to develop, and it is interesting to watch the shifts in their behavior as they go through all their experiences. Finally, there are battle scenes from a tremendous war—war on the "Authority" himself—involving all sorts of different characters and beings. It's the sort of book that you can picture in your head, like a movie; but it also seems that no movie could do the book justice. Overall, it's a set of books I wouldn't mind reading again and wouldn't hesitate to recommend for older readers; for younger readers, I would definitely suggest that the parents read it first and be prepared to address the major issues, including organized religion (with all its faults), ecology, evolution, love and sacrifice, spirituality and the soul, death, and even mental illness.
On a separate note, there's been a new mass-market publication of the series, with more adult, typical sci-fi artwork on the covers, and looking up the books on tends to point you to those. However, I think the covers I like better are the ones I've pointed to here (or the new edition with black-and-white illustrations by Pullman).

Fed to jonathan's brain | November 25, 2002