Philip Pullman: The Subtle Knife
Scholastic 2001 (1997)
What were these mysteries? Was there only one world after all, which spent its time dreaming of others? (Chapter 4)
The sequel to Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is as much a roller-coaster of emotions as it is a cauldron of ideas. After Lyra Bevilacqua discovers that nothing is as she thought it was and ends the first volume walking into another world in the sky, we find ourselves at the start of The Subtle Knife in our own world, with a fatherless boy anxious for the safety of his mother.
The contrast in scene-setting between the two novels was shocking to me when I first read this: Will Parry’s sense of isolation arising from awareness of his mother’s vulnerability has burdened him with a responsibility that shouldn’t be given to anyone his age; and when intruders break into his Winchester home and one — after being pushed — trips over the cat and falls to his death, Will is forced to go on the run. Having previously left his mother safe with his former piano-teacher, he arrives in Oxford; here he sees an odd square patch in the air, a window into another world.
And so it is that he finds himself in Cittàgazze, an oddly deserted Mediterranean-type town with a few children running loose, and where he comes face to face with Lyra and her daemon.