My entire review could be this: Phillip Pullman's "The Amber Spyglass" is one of the poorest closing books of a trilogy ever written.
But I feel compelled to continue. At one point, I actually stopped reading "The Amber Spyglass," put it down and vowed not to finish, but I wanted to be able to slag off the book with authority, so finishing became a must. And I even had a slight hope that Pullman could save his series
I did finish, but it never got any better.
Mulefa? Gallivespians? Iorek Byrnison fixing the incredibly fragile subtle knife? The knife breaking at all? Mrs. Coulter continuing to live? The incredible coincidence of everyone meeting the same Cittàgazze kids? It was all too much, and it only got worse as the book went on.
Thematically it was equally frustrating. There has been so much talk about Pullman's anti-religiosity, but the most offensive part of The Amber Spyglass is Pullman's portrayal of women. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Pullman is a misogynist , but he does seem to have a poor understanding of women.
The five main women in "His Dark Materials" are a catalogue of feminire stereotypes. Lyra, as her name so clumsily suggests, is a consummate liar, who eventually becomes a moony-eyed, love sick teen, subordinating herself to her lover Will. Mrs. Coulter is a manipulative femme fatale whose only hint of goodness is her inexplicable maternal instinct. Mary Malone is the pure ex-nun full of kindness and curiosity, blessedly open to all new things. Seraphina Pekkala, the loyal witch, is the classic "heart of gold" character (usually she'd be a whore with a heart of gold, but in a kids book witch with a heart of gold will do). Then there is Mrs. Parry, Will's mom, and her madness (other women appear in the story more, but they're not as important as Will's mom). There are few if any shades of gray in these women, and as the book drew ever nearer the close I found myself hoping desperately for the women to do something unexpected. My wish went unfulfilled.
Maddening, frustrating, and a great disappointment because of what it promised, China Mieville got it right when he made his list of 50 books every good Marxist should read and said, "in book three, 'The Amber Spyglass,' something goes wrong. It has excellent bits, it is streets ahead of its competition… but there's sentimentality, a hesitation, a formalism, which lets us down."
On second thought, Mieville was too nice. "The Amber Spyglass" should be avoided like a plate of raw chicken meat on a hot African day. Read "The Golden Compass" and skip the rest. Period.
P.S. As for the titles I've recommended...they are all books that I hated as much as I hated "The Amber Spyglass." So if you like Pullman's shabby finale you might actually like the other books I hate.