After raving about how wonderful the first two books in this trilogy were, I am feeling some trepidation about what I'm going to say now.
This book fell flat for me.
I don't know if Pullman was just stuck in telling this story after he finished The Subtle Knife. After all, as previously mentioned, he took three years to write the third book whereas the second book came out a year after the first and did a deft job of picking up the threads of the story and maintaining the wonderful pace. Maybe he honestly didn't know what should happen next.
This book did not pick up the pace at all, really. It was sort of cerebral, and wandering, and had many added elements (characters and subplots) that I thought could have been cut out or changed slightly to make for a cleaner story that would have kept the pace of the first two novels.
It's not that I didn't like this book - I did. I liked finding out what happened to the characters, and seeing the story tied up. I liked learning more about the world(s) of this series and thinking about the theological aspects of the story. But it just didn't grab me, and I regret that. Because of that, I found that critical reader in my head questioning things that happened in the story. I don't want to ask those questions here, because I don't want to give anything away. But they are running through my mind pretty insistently and the story was much weakened for me as a result.