The powerful second installment in the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, which began with The Golden Compass (1996), continues the chronicling of Lyra Silvertongue's quest to find the origins of Dust--the very stuff of the universe. The first chapter is vintage Pullman: gorgeous imagery, pulse-pounding action, the baiting of readers' affections as they meet Will, 12, who is trying to protect his emotionally fragile mother and to locate his lost father, an explorer who vanished years before. Instead, Will finds a window into another world, where Lyra and her daemon have also tumbled. That world holds the talisman of the subtle knife, which can cut through anything, even the space between worlds. It wounds Will, but he is bound to it by a destiny neither he nor Lyra (nor readers) yet understand. The witches of Lyra's world, the scientists of Will's, the passionately evil Mrs. Coulter (Lyra's mother), and Lyra's champion Lee Scoresby seek the source of the disorder in the worlds and shimmering spaces that connect them. Angels that bless and Specters that eat the wills of adults appear; tantalizing glimpses of the past and future abound; the whole is presented in a rush of sensuous detail that moves and entrances. Pullman has so intricately woven the textures of the two books that the outlines of the first are clearly recapitulated in the second, making it possible to read this one alone. But as it, too, ends in a tremendous cliffhanger, most readers will seek out the first volume while they eagerly await the third.