Many of the characters from Northern Lights make an appearance in The Subtle Knife, but there are many new characters introduced as well. The story focuses a lot on the new characters and the new worlds, but there is a great mixture of existing characters and introduced ones, woven into the story superbly to show off the new world, introduce new faces, as well as continue the story on. Returning characters include Lyra and Pan, Mrs Coulter, Lee Scoresby, and Serafina Pekkala, while the minor character, Lord Boreal, from Northern Lights reappears. Most returning characters have small but important roles, but all work together to move the story on with important details and plot points.
Will is a character that comes from a place that is presumed to be our own world. He lives in England and is the only child to Elaine Parry. Will is a tough kid, he is strong willed and protective. Having had to grow up fast after realising his mother had mental problems, he does everything he can to protect her and himself from any unwanted attention. Wil’s life seems simple but after learning there were men who were after something that belonged to his father, he defends his home and his mother. After being attacked by and accidentally killing home invaders, Will flees his home and finds a window into another world. There he finds Lyra and Pan and becomes the bearer of the Subtle Knife. He is around the same age as Lyra, if not slightly older, but still prepubescent.
Pullman is brief on physical descriptions, but Will is described as having dark hair with straight black eyebrows, with eyes that are noticeably fierce and wide with a jutting jaw and broad cheekbones. Will travels with Lyra through multiple worlds, new ones as well as his own. Will has real world smarts that Lyra lacks, especially as his world is so much different than her own, but they both balance out in intelligence in a range of areas and Lyra knows things he doesn’t, especially regarding Dust. Being from the real world, Will has no daemon, but like people from others worlds, his daemon is on the inside.
John Parry is the father of Will Parry, who in Will’s world went missing when he was an infant. In his world John was a famous explorer and during a trip to the Alaska he wandered through a window to another world and couldn’t return. In this new world John changed his name and become an explorer there as well, upon entering Lyra’s world his daemon appeared, an osprey named Sayan Kötör.
Lord Carlo Boreal makes an appearance briefly in Northern Lights, but has a bigger role this time around as a main antagonist. Going by a different name and in a new world, he has interests in the Subtle Knife, as well as the alethiometer. He has connections with many characters, Lyra and Will initially, but also Mrs Coulter and Dr Mary Malone. Coming from Lyra’s world he has a daemon which takes the form of a serpent.
Dr. Mary Malone
Dr Mary Malone is a physicist from Will’s world. She is investigating dark matter, the name of Dust in her world. Lyra meets her first, trying to find information about Dust, and with Lyra’s help finds a way to interact with dark matter, much like Lyra and the alethiometer. Mary discovers she has an important role to play in both Will and Lyra’s lives and she embarks on a journey of her own, discovering a new world with strange creatures. She will be the one to construct and utilise the Amber Spyglass.
Balthamos is an angel and part of the rebellion from the Kingdom of Heaven looking to join Lord Asriel’s army. Balthamos plays a larger role in The Amber Spyglass where his mission is to guide the knife bearer (Will) to help Lord Asriel. Angels are described as being luminous and humanlike, barely visible to the human eye. They can transform and are capable of flight though their wings have no corporeal form. Balthamos is cautious and sarcastic, and his relationship with Will has an air of ironic contempt. He also has a same-sex partner, Baruch, another angel who is also part of the rebellion.
Baruch is an angel who is part of the rebellion from the Kingdom of Heaven alongside his same-sex partner, Balthamos. Baruch is courageous and often is the one to fix any of Balthamos’ failings. The connection and affection between the pair is evident, they are deeply loyal and in love. Both Baruch and Balthamos are low ranking angels, but they are determined to carry out their mission at all costs. Like Balthamos, Baruch plays a larger role in The Amber Spyglass, but is introduced first towards the end of The Subtle Knife.