Title: The Secret Commonwealth
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Penguin and David Fickling Books
Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult
Summary: 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.
Two years after the first book in the Book of Dust trilogy, Philip Pullman finally released The Secret Commonwealth! I was very happy when this book was released because I have been waiting patiently for two years. This book acts as a sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy, as it happens after the events of the original trilogy, but it features characters that were introduced in La Belle Sauvage.
I loved this book so much! The plot was excellent and I was hooked from the start. It has a rather violent beginning and the story continues with a lot of tension and unease. Unlike La Belle Sauvage, I thought that this book was paced well even while retaining Pullman’s detailed and descriptive style. Pullman’s writing style for this particular book felt more mature than the other books in this universe. This may be since I haven’t picked up one of these books in a couple of years but I think it’s to match Lyra’s age and state of mind. She’s 20 years old now, no longer a child, and the writing reflects that.
I thought that the development of Lyra’s relationship with Pan and the strain on their relationship added an important dimension to the book. Lyra is fighting with herself, because Pan is part of her, but because he’s separate there’s something much more troubling going on. She feels betrayed by Pan but Pan is part of Lyra. It seems to be an externalised self-loathing because she has something, her daemon, to direct her self-loathing towards. Lyra is obviously suffering from some sort of depression or PTSD, even if Pullman is reluctant to use those terms himself, and, as readers, we’re experiencing how she feels in the aftermath of the events of His Dark Materials. This entire book is about the troubling relationships people have with their daemons, and therefore themselves, and I found it absolutely fascinating.
I didn’t like the romantic plot-line in the book for a multitude of reasons and I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it had been left out. I didn’t like the power dynamics that were going on and I found it uncomfortable to read but that’s just my opinion. Also, the ‘villains’ were fairly forgettable but the themes that Pullman explores really made up for that.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. I found it much more compelling than the first book in the series, probably because it focuses on Lyra again. I’d highly recommend both His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust.
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