Oddly The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman feels like the first of a trilogy rather than the second in The Book of Dust. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book but the first half is taken up with world-building and the introduction of new characters, relationships and enmities. But this is the first time we see Lyra as a young woman ten or eleven years after we left her at the end of The Amber Spyglass, so much has changed. Oxford seems more modern, Lyra is surrounded by old friends and potential new enemies and, crucially, she is not getting on with her daemon Pan.
This latter fact, at first unthinkable, is the power driving the narrative. When Pan despairs of Lyra, who he thinks has changed unrecognisably, he sets out to recover the thing he fears she has lost. Her imagination. And Lyra, being Lyra, charges off in pursuit. Except she doesn’t know where Pan is going. Both are driven by love.
Add to this a changing political landscape with a new generation of scholars, scientists, politicians, priests and criminals and it soon becomes clear that Lyra and Pan are separated from each other in an increasingly toxic and dangerous world. Meanwhile the farmers of roses and makers of rose oil are being persecuted across Asia. Prices are rising as rose farms are burned and those who make their living from the flowers are destitute. A new rose oil with powerful and mysterious properties has been discovered in the East, and the Magisterium wants it all.
There is a sense of inevitability that Lyra will embark on a new quest taking her to strange lands. Quite how everything connects together is not clear and that is Pullman’s magic, he tells us just enough to puzzle us, to keep the curiosity burning and the pages turning, without allowing us to become bored or impatient.
What an enjoyment to encounter old friends from His Dark Materials and some new ones made in La Belle Sauvage, the previous book in this second trilogy. I won’t name these friends as I don’t want to deprive you of the joy of meeting them again. As ever, this is a brilliantly imagined, intricately plotted world from Pullman with a modern story of refugees seeking safety from an oppressive and unforgiving regime. The refugees are fleeing the places through which Lyra and Pan are travelling. Will they be safe? Or will they be outwitted by old and new enemies.
BUY THE BOOK
Read my review of La Belle Sauvage, first in The Book of Dust trilogy.
If you like this, try these:-
‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden, #1 Winternight Trilogy
‘The Queen of the Tearling’ by Erika Johansen, #1 Tearling Trilogy
‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth, #1 Divergent Trilogy
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH by @PhilipPullman #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4tnvia @Sandra Danby