Book Reviews

Book Review: The Secret Commonwealth by Phil Pullman

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.
It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.
Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .
The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.
Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.
Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.

Title: The Secret Commonwealth
Author: Phillip Pullman
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: October 3rd, 2019

Rating: 4.7//5

This review contains spoilers for His Dark Materials and La Belle Sauvage.

My history with His Dark Materials is a long one.

If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve talked about this series quite a few times and my overall love for it, but here’s a quick rundown on why:

This is the first “older” book series I remember reading. I transitioned from the lighthearted fun of Babysitters Club and the Boxcar Children to His Dark Materials, and it was a big change.

I was told by numerous adults that these books were not appropriate for me, my parents were told they were bad parents for allowing me to read these books, and don’t they know they’re being banned in some schools? The anti-religious propaganda was wrong and damaging to a young girl, and someone needs to get me away from these books.

But my parents never shielded my reading habits. They trusted my judgment and knew what I was capable of. Now if my ten year old self brought home A Game Of Thrones, they would probably have said I need to wait a few years, but His Dark Materials was well within the logic of my child brain.

All of this is part of the reason I fell so hard for the original trilogy. My parents love and understanding, the angry adults trying to dictate what I do, and then the books themselves, with the unique world building, fierce female protagonist, and of course, dæmons.

But I digress, after the original trilogy we now venture about seven years into the future… with Lyra now in her early twenties, a university student whose just trying to find her place in the world.

This book is HUGE, and there’s a lot of plot points going on. We have Lyra’s adventure, Pan’s adventure, Malcolm’s adventure, and the secret going on’s of Oakley Street.

Yep you read that right. Lyra and Pan go on separate adventures.
I don’t regard this as a spoiler because it’s introduced right away in the first few pages, and is the basis of the story. With this there’s the introduction of some straight thinking philosophers who don’t believe in dæmons, Dust, or any of the past adventures of Lyra. Lyra’s reading of these texts, and the side effects of that horrible day where they had to separate, have caused a huge rift in Lyra and Pan’s relationship, which eventually leads to them going their separate ways.

Lyra’s adventure takes her in search of The Blue Hotel, where she thinks she’ll find Pan again. Pan’s adventure takes him in search of Lyra’s “imagination”, and Malcom’s takes him on the hunt of mysterious rose water.

You won’t understand anything about the imagination until you realise that it’s not about making things up, it’s about perception.

The rose plot is the central plot of the story, and honestly, the most confusing. There’s a special rose that only grows in one place, a place that dæmon and human cannot get to together, but both must reach. These roses are somehow linked to Dust, they’re disappearing, and the Magesterium is somehow behind it.

I was intrigued by this plot, fascinated by it really, but I still don’t completely understand it. Why are these roses so important? What’s happening to them? I have no clue.

And then there’s Marcel Delamare. The plotting, manipulative, powerful man from the Magisterium. I won’t spoil who he is, but wow is he a character I never saw coming! He wants Lyra dead, wants control of the Magisterium, and will stop at nothing to make these dreams come true. If he wasn’t so evil I would almost start rooting for him because he’s just so cunning.

Lyra’s journey takes her through a lot of interesting new characters. There’s the character Dick, her sometimes college love interest, the return of Ma Costa and the Gyptains, soldiers, and other people without dæmons.

Lyra’s journey is captivating, and I was riveted from the beginning. I loved all the characters that she met, her introduction to Malcolm (and ALICE! which was a surprising twist), and her more adult mindset. At first it was a little bit weird to hear Lyra talk about sex, drinking alcohol, and all that, but it didn’t take long to get used to the idea of her being all grown up. I feel like she was thinking like an adult by the end of The Amber Spyglass, so her engaging in adult activities isn’t too different.

But the one adult behavior I will NOT get behind: Malcolm has a weird thing for Lyra. Never mind that he helped transport her to Oxford when he was 11 and she was about 1, but there is the fact that he was her PROFESSOR when she was about 16. All I can picture now is sweet adventurous little Malcolm having some inappropriate thoughts about underage girls and I’m not down with it. We’ll see how it progress though…

Overall it was a really good continuation of His Dark Materials. It tied La Belle Sauvage to the original trilogy nicely, and started us on a whole new adventure.

I do desperately wish the book ended about five paragraphs later because it ended at a very exciting moment, but I’ll (hopefully) survive until the next one comes out.

So if you’re a fan of His Dark Materials, you’ll enjoy this book. Its a lot longer, a little more adult, but has all the dæmons, magic, and sense of adventure that you could hope for.

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