The Subtle Knife is the sequel to the glorious fantasy novel The Golden Compass and the second book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra Belacqua, the engaging heroine of The Golden Compass, returns, and she is joined by a new major character, Will Parry, a twelve-year old boy looking for his father who disappeared into another world.
At the novel's outset, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon, have crossed the bridge between worlds that her father Lord Asriel created at the end of the Golden Compass. It is there that she meets Will and the interpid pair find themselves in a city populated only by a band of wild children-- all the adults have fled the Specters, ghostly vampires who leave children unharmed but suck the souls from grown-ups. In the course of the novel, Lyra's golden compass is stolen by the nefarious Sir Charles, a confederate of Mrs. Coulter, and Will discovers the subtle knife of the title, an instrument that can slice through any substance and cut windows into alternate universes. Some old friends return including Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby. However, Iorek Byrnisson, the armored bear, and Lord Asriel are sorely missed.
While The Golden Compass had an epic fantasy feel, The Subtle Knife reads almost like a cloak-and-dagger spy novel with magical objects thrown in. Despite the difference in setting and plot, The Subtle Knife is consistent with its predecessor in tone and characterization. The Subtle Knife is not a stand alone book; it exists primarily as a bridge between the Golden Compass and thie last book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. It will make no sense to any reader not already familiar with Lyra's adventures in the trilogy's first installment. However, readers of the Golden Compass who know and love Lyra and her world will devour The Subtle Knife eagerly.