The Amber Spyglass — "His Dark Materials" Series
This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the "His Dark Materials" series.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Book three of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy begins with preteen heroine Lyra in a drug-induced sleep. Her mother, Mrs. Coulter, claims she's put her in this unconscious state to keep her safe from the Church. Meanwhile, Lyra's friend Will (who wields a knife that allows him to move between worlds) searches for her. Readers learn that Lyra is the linchpin in a great spiritual battle. A decision she makes — though no one knows what the decision is — will change the course of the universe.
After Will finds and awakens Lyra, the children travel to the bleak land of the dead and rescue its miserable, listless souls. All the while, Lord Asriel, an iconoclastic explorer who is Lyra's father, and the Almighty's armies do battle: The Church attempts to assassinate Lyra while Lord Asriel and his angels try to save her so she can help establish a free, godless realm.
In Pullman's world, God (referred to as The Authority) was simply the first angel, formed from Dust like everyone else; but he lied to all who came after him by saying he had created them. The Authority's second in command, Metatron, is ambitious and wants to control human affairs. His lust for Mrs. Coulter eventually leads to his downfall. Church leaders are bloodthirsty zealots who plot to kill Lyra because of what she might do to hurt their cause.
Former nun Mary Malone says she left the Church when she realized there was no God, that heaven is empty and that Christianity was "a powerful and convincing mistake" and part of the Church's effort to keep people's minds closed. This book depicts heaven as a place where God has imprisoned souls. It is dismal, and the dead are listless, restless people hungry for life and tortured by menacing birds that remind them in their sleep about the bad things they did in life.
Other Belief Systems
Witches are good, imparting "wisdom" to characters. Nun-turned-scientist Mary Malone consults the I Ching several times because she believes Dust (which symbolizes understanding) can speak to humans through many channels. She also makes frequent comments affirming evolution.
Lyra tells the ghosts in the land of the dead that when she and Will free them, their atoms will go into the air, and they will become "a part of everything." An angel of Lord Asriel tells Lyra that grace learned by a lifetime of thought and effort is better than grace received freely.
When a bear king finds the body of his dead human friend, he rips it open and feasts on it (feeling it was his friend's final gift to him).
Lord Asriel kisses Mrs. Coulter, and Lyra and Will kiss a number of times. Their newfound love somehow brings a surge of Dust to the world around them. Will and Lyra stroke each other's dæmons (creatures that represent a facet of each human), which is an extremely intimate expression of emotion. Two male angels, though they weren't both male originally, display a desperate passion for one another.
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For more on the "His Dark Materials" Series, read Plugged In's article, "Sympathy for the Devil."
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Readability Age Range
14 and up
Yearling Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Whitbread Prize for best children's book, 2001 and Whitbread Book of the Year