Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 12

In the twelfth chapter of The Subtle Knife, Dr. Malone tries to convince her colleague that the dark matter project is worth continuing, but soon learns of outside forces that aim to wrestle control from her. When she decides to take matters into her own hands, she learns what dark matter actually is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.


I love when both fantasy and science fiction both aim to use real-world science in their narratives. I’ve never been one to be particularly picky about just how accurate the science is. (Unless, of course, it’s Stephenie Meyer using essentialist readings of biology to explain genetics to us, or ignoring the fact that semen is a bodily fluid. Sorry for that bit of info if you’d chosen not to know anything about that series.) It’s why I enjoyed LOST so much and it’s why Doctor Who can be so terribly enjoying. And both those shows certainly took liberties with science, and I’m ok with that. I think Pullman takes his own liberties here, and now I’m starting to see not only a fuller picture, but how this trilogy is shaping up to be a sort of anti-Paradise Lost. (I’ve long heard that this series is an inversion of that story, but couldn’t figure out why until this chapter.)

Because of this, I think the one side plot I’ve been anxiously awaiting is Dr. Malone’s. I loved how shocked and open she was towards Lyra, and I’m even more impressed that Pullman had an eleven-year-old girl waltz into her life and rejuvenate her work in the way that she did. Of course, this inherently presents a fairly huge problem: With Lyra nowhere around, how on earth is she supposed to convince both her colleague and the ones in charge of her funding that what she’s doing is worth every dollar they can send her way?

I found it funny (and realistic) that Dr. Malone speaks to her colleague, Dr. Oliver Payne, with such a rush of excitement that Dr. Payne can’t even seem to keep up with the very concept of what she is saying. For us, though, things are becoming a lot clearer. Dr. Malone’s ecstatic rambling is putting the pieces together in a much more manageable way for me, at least: Now we know that something happened 35,000 years prior that made the human brain “the ideal vehicle” for a process that amplified dark matter, which Dr. Malone believes is conscious due to Lyra’s display for her. We learn the people seeking out Will and Lyra do indeed work for the government, but in a branch that deals with “terrorism, subversion, intelligence…,” suggesting that we’re about to see more talk of national security. For Dr. Payne, though, this is not only too much; he tells Mary that this is his last day working on the project. When she tries to convince him otherwise, a new guest arrives, making matters even worse:

Sir Charles Latrom.

Is it ok to hiss at the pages of this book? I want to every time this slimebag steps into a scene. There’s literally nothing good that can happen when he’s around, and I’m quickly proven right. As Sir Charles starts talking about being able to save Dr. Malone’s project (because he knows the right people), it was clear as day to me that this was heading to an ultimatum: If you do as I say, I will fund your experiment. He tries to use the fact that the grant will not be renewed otherwise as a sort of emotional bargaining chip, but this is when Dr. Malone demonstrates what a fierce, independent person she is. As soon as Sir Charles mentions that there’s a “direction” he’d like the research to take, she shuts him down. Immediately. This is a woman who is principled in her use of science, and I’m glad that we have a positive side to scientific research after Pullman demonstrated how wrong the pursuit of knowledge can be at the end of The Golden Compass. It gives this series a nice balance, especially as Sir Charles represents science being used as the means to an end. (Well, and Lord Asriel, to an extent.)

Dr. Malone points it out later, but it raised a huge red flag to me, too, when he asks her to concentrate the project on “the manipulation of consciousness.” It already seems apparent that he has no desire to simply find out what dark matter is; he’s already planning on finding ways to control it. On top of that, he tries to woo Dr. Malone’s interest by bragging about the possibility of defense funding. To me, that’s a clear sign that this is a statement of weaponization. The state is to own and use dark matter? Ok, this will certainly be a disaster. The worst of it all, though, is Sir Charles strongly suggesting that Dr. Malone tell him about Lyra and Will, and their possible whereabouts privately, so the matter might be dealt with in a manner that keeps the issue out of the news. I mean, seriously dude, why don’t you just say, “I’ll probably have them murdered and thrown into the sea,” or something?

Bravo, then, for Dr. Malone not believing one second of this man’s bullshit. Well, I suppose that Dr. Payne also recognizes the inherent creepiness of what this man tells them, but he chooses to act in self-interest: It’s best to have the money and the project than to keep any moral sense of his alive. He even spells it out for her: If she doesn’t accept Sir Charles’s offer, he will certainly do it himself. I was worried that, as she made it very clear that she wanted nothing to do with this, Pullman would switch to someone else’s perspective mid-chapter, and we’d hear nothing more of her story. But she’s far too tenacious of a character to give up that easily. Considering what she witnessed with Lyra and knowing now how important her research is to the government, it’s only sensical that a character like Dr. Malone would sneak back into her own lab that night to see what she can salvage before she’s done with this all forever. It’s frightening how quick the turnover is, though: There are already security guards in the building, and she nearly gets stuck outside her own lab because of one.

I had figured that she’d be returning to her lab to grab something, and then be on her way, but I was pleasantly surprised when she sat down at the Cave, attached the electrodes to her head, and began to attempt to communicate with dark matter. Just like that. In a second, it’s clear she’s on to something, as she begins to type in the computer and a sensation passes through her: the building she is in feels alive.

But nothing could have ever prepared me for what Pullman does here. An unsure Dr. Malone types into the computer, and before she can even finish her sentence, the right screen displays a message to her:


Oh, Pullman. You devil. What happens here is so direct and ridiculous that it still gives me goosebumps over my body when I read it. I’m sure Pullman was aware of the fact that people reading this book were aching to find out exactly what dark matter / Dust was, and that he’d been stringing us along for one and three-quarters worth of a book. So, he uses Dr. Malone in a capacity that almost feels meta, as if these are the very questions we, as the reader, would ask dark matter if we could. And we learn that Dust, Shadows, dark matter…they’re all the same, they’re conscious, and they did indeed appear after a specific event 35,000 years ago. Oh, and Dust then orders Dr. Malone to ask more questions. Oh my god, this is so ridiculous and I love every second of it.

So she asks if the mind answering these questions is human:


Well, okay. What the hell does that mean? She asks if there is more than one being answering her:


Well, what the hell? What the hell are you???





AS;DLKFJAS;KDF DFS@#!@ 1234@!# @!$1453 %354

As my brain tried to process this unbelievable (AND AMAZING) revelation, I continued to read on. How could I not? I can’t say I fully understand the idea that angels are both matter and spirit at the same time, but I imagine this will be important later. Dr. Malone asks if the “angels” did indeed intervene in human evolution, to which they confirm. Of course, she asks why, and they give the best one word answer I could ever imagine:


THESE ARE THE ANGELS WHO LOST THE WAR OF THE HEAVENS. THEY INTERVENED IN HUMAN EVOLUTION TO GET BACK AT GOD. This…this is just spectacular. It puts Lord Asriel’s actions in a new light. Oh god, and Ruta is WITH ANGELS RIGHT NOW, heading to that fortress and THIS IS AMAZING.

When Dr. Malone tries to get confirmation about whether that alleged war was actualy a real thing, the angels tell her she needs to find Will and Lyra; when she asks why, my brain is again thrown into chaos:


i don’t even WHAT IS THIS. The serpent? From the story of Adam and Eve? Are Will and Lyra supposed to be Adam and Even again? This makes NO SENSE TO ME AT ALL but oh my god, I am so excited right now.

Dr. Malone receives her final instructions from the angels: She is to prepare for a long journey, enter a tent off of Sunderland Avenue, and deceive the “guardian” in order to “go through.” Before she does, she must destroy the equipment in her lab in order to prevent others from “taking control of it.” So she sets about her work, in a daze of excitement and confusion, destroying her life’s work in order to obey what the angels told her. (Out of context, that is a hell of an absurd sentence, isn’t it?) Plus, what else could she do? She just abandoned her job anyway, and she knows that there’s no way this is a prank or a miscalculation. What else is there to believe?

As soon as Dr. Malone made it out to Sunderland Street, it was immediately apparent where she was: the location of the window to the world of Cittágazze. Of course that’s what’s in the tent. That’s why she needed to deceive the “guardian” in order to go through. The angels were instructing her to go through to the next world. But what about the Specters? How was she to deal with that?

Well, first things first, I suppose: the deception has to occur. And of course Dr. Malone is just brilliant at doing so, using an expired lab card and some clever cutting and pasting to successfully get by the policeman standing guard. (On a side note, how chilling is it when he asks her if she knows what is on the other side of the tent? Could you imagine having the job to protect a window to a parallel universe?)

The chapter ends with Dr. Mary Malone, the future “serpent,” stepping through from our world to Cittágazze, and I could not be more excited for what’s to come.

As a note, dear Readers, if you hadn’t read about this on Twitter or my new Mark Does Stuff fan page on Facebook, I have released Mark Reads New Moon on all three available formats for readers: PDF, Kindle, and ePub. Merch is being worked on and I’ll most likely have that next before I release the third ebook in that series.

Additionally, for you Harry Potter fans, I will post my review of Deathly Hallows over on Mark Watches at 1:00pm PDT as I normally do over yonder. And, as a final reminder, my panel at LeakyCon is on Friday, July 15th, at 12:00pm in Pacifica Ballroom 8 – 12. Come watch me make a fool of myself!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

103 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 12

  1. medea says:

    Loved your Gif! that's EXACTLY the kind of double take I would do when reading, even to looking around to see if everyone else is as surprised as me, then realizing I'm the only one who just red that phrase… but now you have hundreds of people to share it with!
    Dr. Malone rocked in this chapter, the way she stands up to what she believes in, but Pullman writes it so as readers we Know it wasn't because she blindly follows instructions, but because she thinks what they are offering is wrong… and the destruction of the lab, although it would be considered wrong, ends up being the lesser evil.

  2. _Sparkie_ says:

    Okay so reading this chapter I was struck that dark matter talked about how Mary had to destroy the equipment to prevent it being used by 'enemies' which enforces the idea of this great conflict going on, but I also wondered why, if these angels are clearly on Mary and Lyra/Will's side the alethiometer worked for Fra Pavel in the second chapter. He is clearly against them and the angels, and if the angels are conscious, surely they could refuse to help and stop the alethiometer working for him, but they clearly don't!
    I dunno, maybe I have overthought this! 🙂

  3. drop_and_roll says:

    Yay Sunderland Avenue! I drive along it quite often (alright, my housmate drives but I am an EXCELLENT passenger) and it always reminds me of this book. Sadly I have never seen a window to another world, or even a cat behaving strangely. But it's only a matter of time, right?

  4. Maya says:

    That is the best gif ever. Excellent choice of shirt.

  5. Rachel says:

    Hahahaha, oh Mark…that look of pure WHUT?? I love you so much…I'm pretty sure that was my exact expression when I read this entire book.

    I wish I could have that whole clip on a coffee mug to amuse me all day long. Someone should get on that and invent one of those.

  6. Jenny_M says:

    It says something about how strongly I was indoctrinated into Christianity that even when I first read this book, after several years of atheism, this chapter still made me go "OH BUT SERPENTS ARE BAD AND EVIL AND TEMPTATION IS BAD AND EVIL! AND EVE AND ADAM AND ORIGINAL SIN AND OMG OMG OMG."

    Then my daemon reminded me that if they all think Dust is bad, maybe it's actually good.

  7. Hanah_banana says:

    Okay so as soon as I realised this was the next chapter I remembered that despite all the chapters which I've said 'Omg this is my favourite chapter ever!' this is *actually* my favourite. I love it. So I listened to the audiobook and articulated my emotions in gif form as follows:

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    Haha 'peer review' and he's a sir. Lol. /politics jokes

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    Defence funding? STFU

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    contd. as comments are stupid >:(

    • notemily says:

      Aw, I wish I could see it but it says bandwidth exceeded! It sounds like a truly epic gifspam.

      • Hanah_banana says:

        I'm sorry 🙁 I had loads of bandwidth left when I posted them, so it appears some particularly charming people have been hotlinking them rather than hosting them on their own server and eating all my bandwidth. 🙁 But my bandwidth gets renewed on the 14th so hopefully they'll come back then! And thanks, I was quite proud of it

  8. Hanah_banana says:


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">


    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    I may have had too much fun playing with these gifs…

  9. leighzzz31 says:

    Coherent thoughts later but right now, I'm sitting here laughing myself silly because of that GIF. THAT IS AMAZING, SERIOUSLY, I HAVE BEEN GIGGLING FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES. ALSO, I WANT THAT SHIRT (that is the TARDIS right?)

    As for this chapter, I FUCKING LOVE MARY MALONE. I remember enjoying her on my first read but this time I adore her. She is definitely one of my favourite adult characters in this series.
    But the SHIT JUST GOT REAL moment of Screen Language is the conversation on the Cave (I really love that it's called the Cave, especially given what goes on here).

    Fuck yes, Phillip Pulman, I love where you're going with this.


    Even as an eleven year old, I knew instantly what this meant. I may have punched the air with excitement.

    The Serpent.

    This is the point where my eyes grew bigger and bigger and possibly stopped making room for anything else in my face. I always loved the the Genesis story (Creation story? LOL, I don't know, I haven't read this stuff in years), mostly because of the serpent (I thought I was weird for finding a snake made sense) and now Mary Malone has to play its part? BEST THING EVER OR BEST THING EVER?

    I honestly can't write anymore. That GIF has me LOLing all over the place XD

  10. Patrick721 says:

    Yeah, this is still one of my favorite chapters in the entire series. More so now than it was when I first read the book in like 4th grade.

    I actually haven't been reading along as much, so I didn't remember all of this chapter. And then I did when I read this review. And I was just like…actually, I have a reaction image for how Mary's conversation with the Angels/Dust/Dark Matter makes me feel. But since I can't seem to post it here, I'll just link.
    [Description: A picture of Carl Sagan, looking at his hands with a bewildered expression on his face. The caption says "My brain is full of billions and billions of fuck," in white Impact font.]

    Also, hello new reaction image. Thank you Mark.

  11. stellaaaaakris says:

    This chapter is a pretty good showcase of why, for me, The Subtle Knife equals love. Reading it makes me dance with anticipation. (Yes, I dance with anticipation, deal with it.)

    Mary Malone makes me think of that Lonely Island song "Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions." Mary totally fits the criteria.

    I have a question. I am technologically challenged. We don't get along. So I don't know what would work. If I buy the PDF of your ebooks would I be able to read it on my computer or do I need a nook/kindle/e-reader thingy?

    • FlameRaven says:

      You can read a PDF on anything, but you need a program to read it with– either Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Reader. I think Acrobat Reader is the free version. .epub is specifically an ebook format, but you can download an extension for Firefox (and probably other browsers) to handle it if you don't have a Nook or Kindle.

      Edit: confirmed, you have to pay for the full Acrobat program, but Reader is free here: (I think the main difference is that Acrobat lets you create/edit PDFs and Reader is just for reading them.)

      • stellaaaaakris says:

        Thanks! I have Reader. This is very exciting!

        • flootzavut says:

          There is also a free Kindle program which allows you to read Kindle books on a computer. If you have adobe then you won't need that right now, but just so's you know it's available 🙂

  12. momigrator says:

    I loved reading this review, as soon as I got to your GIF and the paragraph under it I started dancing in my bed singing, "Mark just found out about angels, Mark just found out about angels!" Like a 7-year-old excited that she's about to go to Disney World! AHhhhhhh, my excitement about you reading this series seems to expand with every review. I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the comments except OMG EXCITE!

  13. Tilja says:

    Wait. How come I didn't know about the fan page? Must solve that RIGHT NOW… Done! 😀

    You reached the Angels part! I had completely forgotten the part of the Serpent. How can I not remember something like that and still acknowledge the story? I guess it really is time to give the book a reread. Goodbye day out, hello rest of the trilogy.

    Also, you just gave me the most AMAZING reaction gif in a very looooong time. *already saved*

  14. enigmaticagentscully says:

    You know I think Mary Malone might be one of my favourite characters? I love how she just sort of…rolls with it.
    Like, yeah the dark-matter-angels told me to do this so I'm gonna. Why not?

    • Tilja says:

      Also, she used to be a nun. So she's pumped full of religious concepts, she left them and went into science, and now she's following BOTH OF THEM. I mean, how much cooler can a character become than THAT! Follow your heart and you'll find Everything in your path.

  15. frogANDsquid says:

    Greatest gif of ALL time!

  16. carma_bee says:

    Mark, using your own face as a reaction gif is possibly the best thing ever (and is that I Doctor Who tshirt I see? haha awesome).

    I love this chapter because I love finding out things that make me want to read MORE. LOVE IT.

    And I really hope someone films (or part of ) the LeakyCon panel so everyone can see it.

  17. cait0716 says:

    Unpopular opinion? I totally get where Oliver Payne is coming from, and I probably would have done the exact same thing as him. The truth is, you never get to research exactly what you want unless you're independently wealthy. The person funding the project always gets to decide what direction that project takes. And if someone is willing to fund something your passionate about, you do it. Taking the research in a different direction is a small price to pay for the ability to continue doing the research. Not to mention that if you don't do it, someone else will. And then you miss out on the opportunity to influence it, not to mention all the excitement of actually doing the work.

    Mary took a huge risk and left her entire life behind on the word of a 12-year-old girl and something claiming to be fallen angels. It's possible she's more comfortable making a huge, life-altering decision like that; she did forsake her life as a nun. But it's not something I would ever be able to do. Payne went the safer route, and I found myself agreeing with his decision.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      Warning for my teal deer analysis of Dr. Malone's decision.
      As far as we know, though, the 12-year-old girl and the "fallen angels" have largely just been confirming things she's learned in the course of her own research, but that Pullman thought was too boringdidn't have time to go into in depth. Granted, there is a huge logical leap between "we're all saying that dust probably interacted with human evolution 34,000 years ago" and "I must believe every single thing you say," but I also think that Mary is just opposed to the idea of working for Sir Charles on every single level, which would make that sort of choice a lot easier for her.

      I think that part of her refusal of Sir Charles's directive is that she's probably more sheltered and idealistic/naive than Dr. Payne. She was a Catholic nun, a title that I'm told a woman probably wouldn't be able to achieve before the age of 25-30 years old. She's a bit older than Mrs. Coulter, so maybe she's around 36 or so? (I don't think we've been told an exact age for either of them, so I'm just guessing.) And it seems that pretty much ever since she left the convent she's been in this line of research, which was a very new line of physics research at the time and therefore (correct me if I'm wrong in this assumption) probably not as prone to outside, more political-minded intervention. I think it would make sense for her to balk at Sir Charles's ultimatum, even if a more experienced scientist wouldn't.

      She also seems completely morally opposed to the line of research Sir Charles is suggesting. To go back to the Catholic nun thing again, the alethiometer said that Dr. Malone stopped believing and left, but there seems to be one aspect of it that seems to still affect her personally here: she seems to be something of a pacifist. In fact, she seems to be the only real pacifist we've seen so far. Lord Boreal mentioned that if she researches into parallel universes it could attract defense funding, and she said that it was just a matter of wanting "to find new ways of killing people."

      There's also the fact that Sir Charles was basically threatening her. He keeps saying that his sources have to be hidden because of the Official Secrets Act (which seems to be a passive-agressive way of implying that he's getting his information on them from inside the government itself, probably from spies), and he point-blank says that he knows that Lyra has been to visit her before and that "I would know if she came by again and I would know if you didn't tell me about it." He said that Lyra was being pursued by "the intelligence services" (there's that government connection to spies again) and that she stole the alethiometer; he said that Will was wanted for murder. To me, it wasn't "do the kind of research I want you to do or you'll lose funding and be out of a job," it was "do the kind of research I want you to do while I keep pressuring you to tell me about Lyra and Will, or I'll spy on you until they come to you, report you to the authorities for harboring them, and then you'll lose your job and possibly go to prison."

      • cait0716 says:

        I get why Mary followed the angels/Dust. And there are plenty of people who aren't comfortable doing defense funded research. I'm just saying, I'd have been Oliver in that scene. I think he makes a rational decision about his future, especially since he's only getting the story of Lyra and Dust second-hand from a colleague who appears to have not slept in three days.

        I do think that Mary jumps to the Dust == good conclusion pretty quickly. Especially in light of her past as a nun and the angels' admission that they were on Lucifer's side. But she has been backed into a corner at that point and doesn't have much left to lose once she refuses Sir Charles.

        Sir Charles pushes it with the Lyra/Will aspect of his story, but I think that's more apparent because of what we know about Lyra and Will. From Payne's perspective, it's easier to believe Sir Charles' version of events. Not to mention that Mary refused the second she thought she would have to sacrifice control over her research. I don't think that threat did much to sway her opinion.

      • t09yavors says:

        I am inclined to agree with you. During my re-read I noticed that Mary didnt realize at first that Sir Charles offer of funding came with a condition. This isn't a criticism because I would be the same way but it does suggest a certain innocence to her character.

    • @Rosepug says:

      Simply put: Dr Malone=Gryffindor. Dr Payne=Slytherin.

  18. Ryan Lohner says:

    I love how in Mary's first POV chapter, she pretty much shows herself to be Lyra as an adult. Lyra had earlier speculated that maybe there was another her in this new world, and my first time reading I was a bit disappointed that that didn't pay off, but now I realize we just met her.

  19. barnswallowkate says:

    When I read the part about Dust being angels I grinned and thought about how much your brain would explode and wished I could see your face when you read it and OH LOOK THERE IT IS! Love the GIF and this chapter and this book. Yay vengeful ~*angels*~ (those are wings on the sides there).

  20. shortstack930 says:

    Hmm Adam and Eve was what I thought of when the serpent was mentioned…I wonder what she has to do!

    • @sab39 says:

      So am I the only person who was dense enough to not have a clue (when I first read the books) what "play the serpent" might refer to even though the discussion of the garden of Eden was RIGHT THERE? I feel particularly dumb now.

  21. Hanah_banana says:

    I think Mark means a second Adam and Eve rather than a case of Lyra and Will having played Adam and Eve once and now they have to do it again. Like if someone claimed to be 'Jesus again' – they're not saying that they have been Jesus multiple times, but they are Jesus coming again. Does that make sense? It does in my head but I'm not sure I'm articulating it very well…

  22. knut_knut says:

    PERFECT GIF IS PERFECT! I was trying to be all sneaky and read this at work AND THEN YOUR FACE WAS ON MY COMPUTER 😀 😀 😀 😀 I probably looked super sketchy but that's ok. Also, I love your shirt and want it.

    Even though I've read this series before, I have NO idea what's going on. Whether if it's because I remember NOTHING from my first read or because I still have no grasp of Christianity/ religion or because I'm just not smat enough I'm not sure, but being forever unprepared is very exciting!

  23. Arione says:

    Sorry Mark and co. can’t comment on HDM right now. I literally just walked out of Deathly Hallows midnight screening here in Aus…. I wish people existes like venn diagrams and all of our crossing points were visible and none of our differences mattered. I watched this alone, because I like to go to the cinema alone, but now the enormity, finality and simple inadequacy/contentment of this moment is alienating, humbling and mundane. Such is life, and life is strange, and Harry lives…. For as much of a forever that matters.

    • Helenak says:

      I just saw the midnight screening of Deathly Hallows by myself here too- are you in Australia, or Austria? I am in Austria right now, so I was intrigued when you mentioned your location. I still can't believe I just saw the last HP movie ever! I think I'm still depressed.

  24. flootzavut says:

    OK I have onlyread half the review but best. gif. evah. Kind of a symbol of "Mark Reads", that expression 😀

  25. Noybusiness says:

    "But what about the Specters? How was she to deal with that?"

    It said "You will be protected. The Specters will not touch you."

  26. arctic_hare says:

    That giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiif. 😀 Fantastic. I kept laughing for a while and eventually made myself keep scrolling down to, y'know, actually read the rest of the review. xD

    I love this chapter. Mary Malone is one of my favorite characters in the series, and now you can really see why. I love how she messed around with the library card to create a fake ID for herself. Brilliant. Also –

    But what about the Specters? How was she to deal with that?

    The angels explain that when they give her the instructions to deceive the guardian, pack for a long journey, etc. "YOU WILL BE PROTECTED. THE SPECTERS WILL NOT TOUCH YOU." How in the world that will work I honestly don't remember, so I cannot spoil for you even if I wanted to, but since it's right there in this chapter I feel comfortable quoting it. I assume they're not lying to her, so maybe they'll personally guard her somehow. I don't know. Guess we'll find out!

    I've been rereading this chapter by chapter alongside you for this, and it's been really fun, I gotta say. It's been a few years since I first read the trilogy, and while I liked it a lot even then, I'm enjoying it this way even more. This method of reading through really works with these books, I'm finding. They're well-suited to a slower, more thoughtful approach that takes each chapter on its own. This is really enjoyable to do.

  27. Eeeee, this is one of my favorite scenes in all three books. I love when characters communicate with an unseen intelligence via text. It reminds me of Sphere. Or Lost. Or all the other times this happens in SFF.

  28. eleniel says:

    The very end of this chapter made me giggle. Dr Malone is not prepared! AND NEITHER ARE WE

  29. Ellalalalala says:

    For the first part of this chapter I assumed my comment would be largely about research integrity and the current situation in Britain with the AHRC and RAH RAH GOVERNMENT INTERFERING IN UNIVERSITIES RAH RAH RAH, but then, I dunno if anyone noticed, but Mary Malone STARTED COMMUNICATING WITH ANGELS WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK and my head asploded and I did a Mark-face.

    I read the rest of the chapter with the most gormless expression ever and my heart actually pounding. SERIOUSLY. WHAT IS THIS BOOK AND HOW IS IT MESSING WITH MY BRAIN AND OH EM GEE WHAT THE WHATNOW??

    And then I went to bed and had jumbled, chaotic, terrified thoughts and had to scribble them down on a scrap of paper with bleary eyes and confuddled brain. This is what they said:

    FUCK YEAH angels and you must play the serpent and vengeance holy crap
    oh my god but are we on the right side?
    vengeance is seldom a great motive, right?
    but how could she
    not obey instructions like that?
    Mrs Weasley would not approve! WHERE DOES THE CAVE KEEP ITS BRAIN? How do we know these angels are good angels? I NEED CORROBORATION DAMMIT
    has to do what they say now to find out more. SHE DESTROYED HER LIFE'S WORK TO FIND OUT MORE!
    on the word of invisible voices
    whose motives she doesn't know
    beyond vengeance
    I wouldn't destroy my thesis on such flimsy evidence
    We can't know that we could know and then not pursue that knowledge.

    This chapter. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.

    I am so scared that Lyra and Will are being used. I don't know what I'm scared of exactly, BUT I HAVE FEAR.

    /brain splurge. Apologies.

  30. AnonAndi says:

    As much as there were multiple things making me go OMG!! DASKFJLAFJKD throughout this chapter, the thing that really made me bounce up and down….
    Was the fact that you were wearing a t-shirt with a TARDIS on it. xD

  31. Albion19 says:

    I basically exploded with excitement, wonder and WTF at this chapter.

    ANGELS!!! I love them as Mark loves time travel and parallel worlds 😀

  32. PeanutK says:

    This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole book because of the scene with Mary Malone and the Cave. It's like the most exciting and chilling info dumps ever. Angels! Rebel Angels! And she must play the serpent, whatever that means!


    And mark, I will never stop laughing at that gif. Ever. It pretty much sums up your entire blog xD.

  33. Brieana says:

    Sooo… if Mary is to be the serpent, does that mean she's a Slytherin?
    I'd say that she's a Slytherclaw. I don't understand why there weren't hybrid houses at Hogwarts. I'd feel so boxed in if I had to just be one.

    Remember what happened in chapter 12 of the last book? You posted a visual of your reaction there as well.

  34. rissreader says:

    Confused. If it exists, dark matter has been around a lot longer than 35,000 years. Or is it that there has always been dark matter but they/it didn't start to interact with 'humans' until then?

    Personally, I would probably seriously question my sanity if I were Mary. I imagine I would spend several hours googling late onset schizophrenia before deciding to check out the window. Angels telling me what to do would set my suspicions running.

    However, I love the entire Angels messing with God premise. No one ever thinks they can do anything about God. …

  35. hazelwillow says:

    This is one of the chapters I always re read. It's just one of my favorites in the entire series. I just look for the bolded font. 🙂 The sense that the building is almost alive, waiting, expectant. The atmosphere is so mysterious and quiet and explosive and real at the same time.

  36. pennylane27 says:

    Just when I was thinking that there were no gifs that could express my utter astonishment at the revelation that OH YEAH, DUST IS ANGELS, you had to post an acual gif of your reaction. BRAVO MARK. I APPLAUD YOU.



  37. @maybegenius says:


    It was about here that I just resigned that there would be no way for me to figure out Pullman's twists, even with my MASTER PLOT PREDICTION SKILLS, so I just resigned to go along for the ride. AND WHAT A RIDE IT IS.

  38. Rachel says:


  39. Brieana says:

    Mary Malone said that Lyra had an instrument. "A sort of compass thing made out of gold"

    I also like "Dark matter is conscious?" "Evidently."

  40. Billie says:

    I have been gleefully waiting for this chapter. Every night I would check how far away it was, and then re-read it and go "oh man, I wonder how Mark will react to'Angels'" and then it happened, and it was awesome.

  41. notemily says:

    Allow me to use this post as an occasion to RANT to Stephenie Meyer that ACTUALLY, women are born with all the eggs they will ever have while MEN keep having to produce sperm every damn day, so I think you got it kind of BACKWARDS when you said that men's "unchanging" reproductive nature or whatever is what enabled Bella to get pregnant. The sperm aren't just still hanging out from ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO or however old Edward is, he'd have to be producing gametes constantly in order to be able to get ANYONE pregnant. Which, like it or not, means that vampires CAN produce the ingredients for life, and your "science" is not so much.

    (But I guess you had to have your lovely subplot about women being raped by vampires and then having their kids eat their way out of them! FUN TIMES)


    I love Dr. Malone in this chapter. She goes from confused scientist to BADASS ADVENTURER in a few pages. I love that she isn't taken in by Latrom's bullshit and she refuses to stay and watch the work be co-opted for "defense" purposes. AND that she manages to destroy the special equipment right under the nose of the security guard. AND that she FORGES AN ID CARD in order to get past the dude guarding the window to Cittagazze. Awesomesauce. "Take provisions for a long journey." EEE I AM EXCITE

    I have to say I don't agree with Dr. Payne's "stay and influence the direction of the work" argument. I'd quit too rather than do work I knew was being used for horrible purposes. It's a slippery slope.

    Nothing dates a book these days like the words "floppy disk." HELLO 1990s I HAVE MISSED YOU.


    I'm not sure how I feel about Dust being "Angels." I liked it better when they were just "particles of consciousness" and didn't have a "side." Also, if Lord Asriel thinks he's going to destroy the source of Dust, doesn't that mean he wants to destroy the Angels–who are the very beings whose side he wants to fight on in the war? I don't get it. LORD ASRIEL IS STILL EVIL, I DON'T CARE WHAT ANYONE SAYS.

    However I LOVE THE ADAM AND EVE REFERENCE. I imagine that the Angels are talking about knowledge, and that it's a parallel to what they did when they interfered in human evolution to produce conscious beings. I think they're saying that the Garden of Eden story is a metaphor for what they did. So that means Mary has to give Lyra and Will some kind of knowledge or awareness? Extra side of awesomesauce.

    It continues to puzzle me, however, that the atheist Pullman is not writing a fantasy novel that says "God and Angels don't exist," he's writing one that says "Angels DO exist, but the ones we were taught were 'bad' are actually responsible for making humans self-aware and that's probably a good thing?" It's an interesting tack to take and I really only vaguely remember where this all ends up, so I'm looking forward to finding out with everyone else.

    Then again maybe he's just trolling the people who are so upset with his books. "LOL THE FALLEN ANGELS ARE ON OUR SIDE"

    • muselinotte says:

      When I re-read this chapter yesterday, I actually said "Aawwwh…" out loud when I read 'floppy disk' 😀
      90s ILU!

      I'm also unsure how I feel about Dust not being ungraspable anymore… I liked the idea of a concious entity without any form…
      And I'll agree that I absolutely love the Adam and Eve direction this is taking. I actually have read the books before, but I cannot for the life of me remember how that turns out! 😀

  42. bradycardia says:

    WhatI love is that we've been dying to know what Dust is… And not only does Pullman finally tell us, he has Dust tell us (itself) themselves.

    And ANGELS! Hell yeah! (Excuse the pun.)

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