This is the second book in the series and does not stand alone so read The Golden Compass first. This is still a good read, but not as good as the first book.
There is some interesting stuff in here about wars in heaven and how angels came to be. There is a promise of a really interesting revelation. Lyra's father has upset the balance of the world in the first book and there are lots of references to Lyra being the Eve of the remaking of the world.
There are some anti-religious references, but the speculation is confined to fantasy. You must believe the fantasy the author creates to truly find this a reasonable argument against God.
I did not care for the book itself. While I realize that good characters should change as time passes, just like people, I was bothered by the changes in Lyra. She just didn't seem like herself. Will, the main character for this book, didn't interest me all that much either. In fact, I can't say I cared or was even interested in ANY of the characters.
I continued reading this book, thinking it might get more interesting. The plot points were not compelling to me.
I realize this is a middle book, so it may get how this all fits together until the last book, but I'm not all that compelled to finish the series.
This one picked up right away from where the first book (The Golden Compass) left off and was very interesting. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Mostly, I was thrilled and shocked with the end. It was exciting and surprisingly sad. I am very interested to keep reading. The religious stuff was a bit more involved in this one, and my only real complaint about the whole book was the over-use of the title within the prose. It just grated on my nerves.