The Subtle Knife takes off where The Golden Compass left off, with Lyra leaving her world behind, traveling across a bridge originally torn by the death of a friend. On top of that, we have a new character in Will, a boy searching for his missing father, instead finding another, must less dramatic way to travel between worlds.
To some extent, The Subtle Knife feels like an odd sequel. Where the Golden Compass centered almost entirely around Lyra, this time around, we’re split between Lyra and Will, with Will really the driving force behind the story. I don’t mind Will–he’s unlikable at first, but you fell that’s mostly because
On top of that, The Subtle Knife takes what was most interesting (in my mind) about the Golden Compass–that being the fatnastical world building, in particular the idea of external daemons/souls–and abandons it. Only Lyra has a daemon, and while it’s commented on quite often, daemons just aren’t that central to the story. Instead, we’re looking more and more into Dust, and specifically trying to fit it (badly) into real world physics. I find that I liked His Dark Materials as a parallel universe fantasy, when it starts trying to mesh with our own world… it does so badly.
On the other hand though, if it wasn’t a sequel to The Golden Compass, I think I’d really like The Subtle Knife a lot more. The relationship between Will and Lyra and Pan is really quite enjoyable to read and there are a whole host of ideas in this book that are interesting. The world of Citagazze that discovered how to make holes to other worlds and also has large regions adults cannot enter. The Subtle Knife itself. The beginnings of looking for Dust from the perspective of our own world (although I still wish they hadn’t drawn the connection to dark matter).
So I guess in the long run, I enjoyed The Subtle Knife well enough, I’m just vaguely annoyed that it and the Golden Compass could have fit better together.
Still worth the read/listen.