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The Book of Dust #2

The Secret Commonwealth

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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.

784 pages, ebook

First published October 3, 2019

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About the author

Philip Pullman

306 books23.3k followers
As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader's mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I'm not going to explain.

Anyway, I'm not in the message business; I'm in the "Once upon a time" business.

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, which has been named one of the top 100 novels of all time by Newsweek and one of the all-time greatest novels by Entertainment Weekly. In 2004, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He lives in Oxford, England.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,150 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel.
5 reviews3 followers
October 8, 2019
Hey this review has spoilers so.
I was really wanting to love this book, and His Dark Materials is basically still my favourite series ever. I don't really know where to begin, so I'm just going to make dot points.
- I'm pretty disappointed
- Why did chapter 31 even need to exist- why is it necessary to the plot to have the attempted rape of the main female character? The parts at the end are filled with unintentional irony. She says she shouldn't have to expect that like Pullman is a massive feminist for point out that fact, but if he was an actual feminist he would never have put this chapter in the book to start off with. What purpose did it serve?
- Why even mention that Malcolm was attracted to Lyra when she was like. 14 or 15 when he was her teacher and 11 years older than her at the time
- Could there have been a way better way to dismiss cold logic in the face of blind acceptance of the church than a convoluted plot about philosophers/authors? That I find it unrealistic that Pan and Lyra would ever fight about?
- It seems strange the way the events of His Dark Materials are referred to, like they happened 50 years ago instead of only like... 7 or 8. There's no way you forget stuff that fast
- Pullman trying to make an allegory of the rose oil causing conflict = oil disputes and the ultimate controlling of this by the West feels like way too much with everything else happening in this story and also. Poorly done? Same goes for the refugee crisis, the entire chapter about Malcolm at that rally/town meeting, etc
- We already had the Adam and Eve story played out again with Will and Lyra, why do we need this to happen again, just with a story/poem belonging to another culture? You've got this ancient story from this culture and then suddenly, of course it's about our two main white characters who are special!
- Where was the plot? What was the point? Was the purpose of this book solely to set everything up for the 3rd book? What was the true purpose of this story? That as a woman I shouldn't travel to the middle east because most of the people there are clearly poor, impoverished, and cruel abusers?
-The world felt too much like our world. Like Will's world. And not in a "suddenly the world is darker because Lyra isn't a child anymore" which would make sense. It felt too... Modern? I can only imagine how jarring this book would feel reading straight on from The Amber Spyglass/the rest of the trilogy
- I feel like finding Philip Pullman and shaking him and asking "What were you actually trying to do here???!!!???" Is this a spy book? Is this a fantasy book? Is it about terrorism? Is it about religion? Is it about human relationships? The slave trade? Alechmists? Animal abuse? The oppression of women? Refugees? Clearly it's about all of these things but for God's sake, please just pick like 3
- It's like he made a list of every single possible world issue he was interested in/mad about, and shoved it all into one single novel before anyone could edit his list.
- Alice is the best character in this book
- I miss Will
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.5k followers
February 7, 2020
I can't believe I'm giving this book 2 stars...

His Dark Materials shattered my heart as a kid... I've been dreaming of a book about adult Lyra ever since but this was one of the biggest disappointment of 2020 already.

It took me 3 months to finish this book. A book I had been dreaming about for years...

I'm tempted to pretend this series doesn't exist since His Dark Materials his one of my favorite series ever. I'll probably still read the next book since I clearly like to torture myself.
Profile Image for M.
53 reviews19 followers
October 10, 2019
Northern Lights is quite possibly my favourite book of all time, and I actually really liked La Belle Sauvage despite the mixed reviews it got, so I was pretty confident that I'd love The Secret Commonwealth. Grown-up Lyra?? I pre-ordered it and started reading it the minute it landed in my Kindle. And... I really didn't like it.

Judging from the reviews on here, I'm in the minority, and I'm not mad about that. I love the world of His Dark Materials and I will always admire Pullman as one of my all-time favourite writers, so the more people enjoy this book, the better.

But I was absolutely astonished by how lifeless this book was. I was amazed at the transformation of Lyra from my all-time favourite heroine into a flat, dislikable character.

On some level, I get it. It's actually very relatable - Lyra's character arc explores difficult themes of growing up into a person you don't like, of realizing that your child-self would be horrified and disappointed by the person you've become, of being quite literally at war with oneself, which is a struggle that many of us go through when we enter our early twenties. It definitely resonated with me. But... this is LYRA. I don't want this to be her arc. I want eleven-year-old Lyra back, with her fire and grit and wild lies.

Malcom is another character that I felt got flattened and squished by this book. I loved kid-Malcom in La Belle Sauvage. He was brilliant and curious and wise beyond his years. Adult Malcom, though, I barely have any adjectives to describe. Not to mention the

The prose felt expositional, and although there were flashes of brilliant writing , overall the book felt disjointed, the pacing was weird, and the structure just didn't seem to flow very well. There wasn't really rising tension or a climax - random things just seemed to happen, one after another.

I'm really in disbelief at how let down I feel by this book, but of course I'll still eagerly await the next book, and of course Pullman is still one of my favourites. Something about this one just really rubbed me the wrong way.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
401 reviews3,489 followers
January 11, 2023
Here is my video review: https://youtu.be/USZMOjCprqY

His Dark Materials and La Belle Sauvage have been such an immense delight. They have brought lightness into dark times. It was with much delight that I opened this book.

Lyra, Pan, Malcom, and Alice are all back in this book. However, the book is extremely dark and has lost its magical touch. The book spends the first 200-300 pages in some philosophical debates, and I was expecting it to pick up the pace from there, but it didn't. This book was 600+ pages, and there was never a showdown. It was a let down. Where is the action? If this book was not part of a series but just a standalone, I wouldn't bother purchasing the next book. The book instead also seemed to be a bit disjointed with different stories cobbled together without telling a unified larger story (for example, The Great Gatsby is a very short book but Fitzgerald has a reason why he has each character and each event in the book. By the end, he brings the entire story together). Perhaps everything will be brought together in the last book, but 600+ pages should be enough time to get there.

In an article in The New Yorker, Pullman states that Lyra has melancholy in The Secret Commonwealth. While I appreciate that Pullman has tried to bring some pressing world issues into the spotlight, this was off-brand and felt out of place for this series. I also did not appreciate the depiction of love in this book but I won't get into details because of the spoiler police.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for Hannah.
170 reviews23 followers
Want to read
April 9, 2018
Why the hell are people rating this book one star when it's not even out yet and there's no way they could possibly have read it?? It makes me so mad ¬¬
Profile Image for Sara.
1,080 reviews361 followers
October 17, 2019
The Secret Commonwealth continues Lyra's story, many years after the conclusion of His Dark Materials, with a young woman adrift from her deamon and starting to understand who she really is in the world. It's a story about acceptance, challenging the rules left by the old, and self discovery.

As always, Pullman's writing is a joy to read. He can draw me back into this world effortlessly, as if I've never been away from Lyra and Pantalaimon. But she's not the girl I'm used to seeing. At the start of the story she's adrift, unsettled by recent texts she's read regarding philosophy and the purpose of deamons. She's lost her spark, her imagination and recklessness. Everything that's the essence of Lyra, the essence of Pan, is gone. I struggled at first to relate to this woman, although her daily thoughts of Will and how he would have handled certain situations absolutely broke my heart. But she's essentially a stranger clinging onto memories, one who doesn't understand Pan anymore, and one who doesn't welcome the strange and unusual into her life. She's changed. And not for the better. With the reintroduction of Mal and Alice, we see Lyra's fate has been continuously intertwined with the two without her ever knowing her entire life. But the naivety of childhood has worn off, and she's soon plunged into their dangerous world once again. A world full of secret societies, secret people...and a secret commonwealth.

There's a lot also going on in the background here. The political machinations we see peeks of in His Dark Materials involving the Magisterium move to the forefront as new players Marcel Delamare and alethiometer reader Olivier Bonneville seek to gain powerful footings within the church. Delamare in particular has grand plans to unite the Magisterium together for his own gains - gains involving Lyra and revenge. Developments that happened over 10 years ago slowly start to come to fruition, in what I can only describe as the longest waiting game ever seen. It's a plot steeped heavily in espionage, lies and politics. Olivier Bonneville is also an interesting new player to the game. Son of the man with the hyena deamon seen in La Belle Sauvage, he's an expert with the alethiometer, and haunted by ideas of revenge towards the man who killed his father. He's not as clever as he thinks he is, and he understands very little about the world he's so heavily involved in, and his obsession with Lyra will not end well.

I liked Lyra's various interactions throughout the novel, as we see her travel across Europe and into the wider world outside Oxford on her quest. Some of the things she encounters along the way are uncanny and strange, but they help to bring Lyra back into what she knows best from her past - her acceptance of everything that's different. I also enjoy her interactions with Mal, Alice and the gyptians, and would have loved Lyra to have spent more time amongst Ma Costa. The comparisons between the girl who visited the Fens as a child with Ma Costa and the woman who revisits now only further highlight her differences, and what she's lost.

The story rushes to it's finale through bloodshed and mystery, towards the Blue Hotel. It's here that Lyra has been pulled, through her own deciding or by destiny, to find what she's been missing. But there's no conclusion, and a whole heap of questions left unanswered in the desert. It's reminiscent of The Subtle Knife in it's lack of conclusion - more a bridging and setting up kind of novel towards the final instalment, but I can't deny it didn't leave a bitter aftertaste because of this lack of finality to anything.

It was so wonderful to be back with Lyra and Pan in this world, but you must go into this with an open mind. It's a different novel, with a different (much older) protagonist. It's darker, with darker themes and much more intellectual talk and ideas. It's not going to be for everyone, and people expecting more of His Dark Materials will be sorely disappointed. It's not world spanning adventure, but world changing schemes and thoughts. Go in with an open mind and open heart.
Profile Image for Alicia.
3,146 reviews35 followers
March 16, 2023

Normally I don't prioritize books by white cis male authors, but I'm still interested in the adventures of Lyra--now a twenty year old college student--so figured I'd make an exception. And then I got to page 187 and said "oh, no. Oh, gross" OUT LOUD. This is what I get for trusting male authors: a character who is "in love" with a girl he's known since she was a baby, who was attracted to her when she was a young teen WHO HE WAS TEACHING, but now it's okay because she's twenty????? And in mortal danger???? Pullman even has a sensible lady tell this dude "it's cool, you're both adults!" EWWWW no. And it’s not that the age difference is even that big, it’s just that Pullman presents all this in a very . . . clueless manner (Lyra secretly enjoys being catcalled, if you were wondering more about the general vibe.) Lyra, of course, is also threatened with rape at one point.
The story here is kind of weird, too; Pullman is doing his usual railing against corrupt organized religion, and has now added rational intellectuals and skeptics (who hate imagination? it's all bizarre) to the mix. I just think it's weird that all these secret groups of powerful/evil men are still all after this one poor girl. And then everyone is just journeying around for the entire book. It doesn’t have a remotely satisfying conclusion, because the conclusion will be in the next book. Just all around not good. C-.
Profile Image for Miles.
464 reviews150 followers
October 15, 2019
As a huge fan of Philip Pullman, I take no pleasure in reporting that The Secret Commonwealth is a massive disappointment. This novel, which begins every bit the worthy successor to Pullman’s marvelous His Dark Materials trilogy, slowly and tragically dissolves into a narrative so desultory and dull that it may as well not exist. Or it’s brilliant in a way I can’t comprehend––but I don’t think so.

Rarely do I feel the need to take vengeance on a novel when reviewing it, but this one brought me to a point of deep, painful resentment. The primary reason is that, unlike most bad books, the opening act displays incredible promise. La Belle Sauvage, the first volume of The Book of Dust , was a strange and dark tale with a lot of potential, and the first couple hundred pages of The Secret Commonwealth honor that potential, proving as good as anything Pullman has previously written. The story is mature and unsettling in a fashion that departs from his first trilogy, and the book starts off with a solid balance of plot-based and character-driven energy.

Lyra, now twenty years old, must deal with the consequences not only of her own personal journey as an adolescent, but of events that took place in her infancy. The relationships between Lyra and those seeking to cultivate her incipient adulthood are touching, and the older versions of the main characters from La Belle Sauvage are well-crafted. Watching them interact with Lyra is a genuine pleasure.

This pleasure is contrasted heavily by Lyra’s intriguing and disturbing arguments with her daemon, Pantalaimon (Pan). The Secret Commonwealth reveals new dynamics between humans and daemons, namely a host of ways in which people and their daemons can become separated. These operate as relatively successful metaphors for how our social relationships fluctuate over time and how people can become internally conflicted and alienated from aspects of their own personalities. Lyra and Pan become embroiled in a philosophical dispute over the nature of truth, and whether it is a product of strict objective rationalism or of pure subjective imagination. Their squabbling over this false dilemma becomes quite vicious, eventually leading to a dramatic but somewhat baffling estrangement. Unfortunately, the quality of this conflict degrades as the novel progresses, along with everything else.

Pullman is also preoccupied with “the world of hidden things and hidden relationships”––an animistic magical realm from which the novel derives its title (389). He often hints at the possible significance of “the secret commonwealth,” but doesn’t deliver enough detail to establish its value as a narrative device. This noncommittal attitude toward its own ideas permeates The Secret Commonwealth in a way that feels almost intentional, as if Pullman thought being intellectually wishy-washy would somehow improve things.

For as long as Lyra and her companions stick around in Brytain (Pullman’s fictional version of Britain), the novel holds together fairly well. But once they hit the road and split off into separate subplots, the story swiftly disintegrates into a plodding caravan of interactions with seemingly-inconsequential and mostly-uninteresting new characters. The main characters don’t interact nearly enough, and none of their individual journeys proves enlightening or more than superficially exciting. The novel is more than 600 pages, and in the last few hundred the story becomes increasingly rudderless, and––worst of all––boring. There is nothing in the way of a compelling climax, and the book terminates at a point that would constitute rising action in a tighter, more focused tale.

Given that The Amber Spyglass is by far my favorite volume of His Dark Materials, I am cautiously optimistic that Pullman’s conclusion to The Book of Dust will be worth reading at worst and capable of salvaging the series at best. But as it currently stands, The Secret Commonwealth imperils Pullman’s reputation as a master storyteller.

This review was originally published on my blog, words&dirt.
Profile Image for Nemo ☠️ (pagesandprozac).
865 reviews397 followers
Shelved as 'tbr-sequels'
November 14, 2017
"lyra silvertongue as a twenty year old"

"lyra silvertongue as a twenty year old"

"lyra silvertongue as a twenty year old"

"LYRA SILVERTONGUE AS A TWENTY YEAR OLD"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

am actually losin me shit, one of the reasons why la belle sauvage wasn't as good as hdm was because lyra wasn't in it (well i mean she was, but she was 8 months old) but this.... BUT THIS
Profile Image for Kami.
8 reviews2 followers
October 20, 2019
Oh, the disappointment….

While I appreciate good representation and diversity in the stories that I read, I acknowledge that even in 2019 not all books can be up to my own standards. So if a book is well written, has a solidly planned story, has good pacing and keeps me interested, I will consider it a good book even if it doesn’t contain any good female characters or POC or LGBT+ representation (I definitely won’t like it as much as a good book with good representation, but you know).

Bottom line is I don’t judge books **solely** on their representation of minorities. However…. When an author writes a work of fiction that is clearly meant as a political statement; when the narrator’s voice is an obvious extension of the writer’s voice; when Philip Pullman uses his newest work of fiction to try and convey a feminist and antiracist message…. and fails miserably, I feel like the most important thing to review isn’t so much the story as its execution.

And I can’t believe that Philip Pullman needs to be told that his story is both incredibly sexist and racist… I have zero legitimacy commenting on racism, so I’ll focus on the sexism here.

So, to Pullman and other authors who still don’t realize how conservative they are, I have to say you are NOT writing a feminist story:

When your narrative voice comments on the beauty or sexuality of every single one of your female characters (they’re either “pretty”, “very pretty”, “not pretty but sexual”, “slender”, or “well-preserved for an older woman”). Every single one of them, no matter how important they are to the story…. (Oh and of course you don’t do that to the male characters, that would just be equal treatment!)

When you write a trusting female character and have her constantly warned mansplained by male characters that her behavior isn’t safe because men are pigs.... and then punish her for being trusting by having her raped (well, almost raped, because, thank goodness, a man had given her a weapon, and then another man intervened to save her, and then another man cleaned her up.) It’s NOT ENOUGH that you reappropriate the word “rape” instead of using common euphemisms; it’s NOT ENOUGH that you have a strong character who knows, and says, that it wasn’t her fault but the rapists’. If your story makes it look like the men who warned her were right to do so, then you are not criticizing the system like you think. Please realize that women are raped no matter what they do, how they behave, what they wear. Men will rape anyone they think they can overpower, and that takes many different forms! Writing yet another story where a woman is raped despite mens' best effort to warn her against traveling on her own does one thing and one thing only: it perpetuates rape culture.

You want to write a feminist story? Stop using rape as an event that brings drama and rhythm to your story. Stop punishing female characters with rape. Stop writing only men characters who are knowledgeable about rapists and know how to avoid them.

You want to talk about rape? Then TALK about it! Showing it is not the only way! Make your characters have a conversation about it. Make them talk about rapes that you don’t show and argue about rape culture. Instead of writing “it wasn’t my fault when I was raped,” write “it’s not women’s fault when they are raped.” How hard is this? There are so many impromptu elements that you manage to sneak into your story, surely you can replace a rape scene by a constructive discussion of rape culture?

You are also not writing a feminist heroin when every single one of her relationships with men is described in terms of how sexual it is. It is not feminist to write that a young woman feels more comfortable hanging out with older men because at least she won’t risk entering into a sexual relationship with them. For goodness’s sake…!

You are not writing a feminist story when one of your main storylines is the internal struggle of a man feeling guilty for loving a woman who is so much younger than him; and when one of your most heavy-handedly arguments is that “it’s ok because they’re both adults now”, and oh, let’s have all the other female characters reassure him that it’s ok! Well guess what? It’s not ok! It’s not ok when you remind your reader that that man took care of her when she was baby. It’s not ok when you tell your reader that he used to smell her hair when she was underaged and HIS STUDENT. It’s not ok to write this as one of the central arcs in the development of your main characters, especially not in a story in which men are constantly shown ogling younger women in a deeply perverted way. You’re not writing the feminist story you think you’re writing!

Please do yourself, and all of us, a favor and talk to people who are directly concerned by these problems!! Don’t think you can educate yourself on your own. You haven’t gone through the same things, you don’t have our experiences of the world, so stop trying to be our advocate if all that you come up with is this sexist story!

Writing a sexist world critically does not a feminist story make.
Profile Image for Alex Sarll.
5,762 reviews231 followers
October 17, 2019
What a fascinating mess that was. The opening feels a lot like a Golden Compass* replay, with Lyra back in Oxford, and a student now herself. Except instead of missing children, the mystery we're meant to be exercised about this time is...something to do with roses in the Middle East? Which you might think would feel remote and abstract but oh boy, you'd be amazed how many people Lyra knows suddenly have an intense personal interest in the subject and a reason to talk to her about it. In the meantime, she's been bickering with Pan, who is convinced that she's somehow had her imagination stolen away by two modish authors she's been reading. One of them is a philosopher, a sort of nightmarish Jordan Peterson/Slavoj Zizek crossbreed who mingles with the powers that be while inculcating post-truth notions in the young. The other is an ultra-rationalist who's using the terrible power of something which sounds a lot like our own world's nouveau roman to convince people that daemons are only a figment of their imagination. Now, this is interesting on two levels. One is that, given Pullman's own avowed atheism, we might easily have taken him for just such a figure himself. And that reassessment of what he's previously said, that I don't mind at all. One of the things which made Terry Pratchett's later work so invigorating was his willingness to go back, re-examine his own earlier conclusions on religion, see where nuance was wanting, and correct himself. Similarly, it makes perfect sense for Pullman to clarify that when he was inveighing against organised religion, that didn't mean he wanted to shut down the possibility of dreams and stories and the notion of something more than the merely mechanistic. No, the problem comes from the other aspect, which is that anything that looks like our world's rationalism, existing in Pullman's world, is not rationalism at all – it's insanity. There are daemons and witches and talking bloody polar bears, and those are just the widely known facts. Lyra herself has been to other realities and the Land of the Dead, met angels, the whole shebang – and not been treated as insane when she came back from it. There's no reason for anyone to buy into this philosophy, and there's even less for her. And it doesn't help that when we briefly meet the chap, seemingly tormented by his own Alsatian daemon, the pair of them come across like Jim and Wilson in Friday Night Dinner.

In any case, for all Pan's fears, Lyra doesn't seem appreciably less imaginative – just a little beaten down by life, as well one might be. Not just because growing up was always to some extent baked into the series' metaphysics as a limiting process, but because the events of His Dark Materials don't seem to have had any impact on the world; if anything, it's slightly worse, risking that horrible Force Awakens effect of making the original trilogy's struggles and sacrifices seem entirely pointless. You can understand Lyra not wanting to charge down the high street like Nietzsche's madman telling everyone that the Authority is dead, but the way she doesn't even allude to it in more private and occult conversations, and only once or twice mentions the Republic of Heaven inwardly, contributes further to that sense of a reluctance fully to build on the earlier achievement. Might this itself represent that lack of imagination? Well, maybe, but more often characters (particularly, but by no means solely, Lyra) seem only to suffer from a lack of common sense, as often happens when a writer needs to keep a plot moving and doesn't much care how they do so. I first bridled early on, when Lyra, despite all of her past experiences with the authorities, tries to report the story's inciting incident to the police. Still, local force, everyday matter...well, OK, maybe. But it keeps happening, reaching a nadir when despite knowing the Magisterium is stirring, and against her, she wanders into the very heart of it – not for a vital secret mission or anything, just for something to do while she waits for a transport connection.

This was not the only time I found myself puzzled by a veteran writer making what seemed like rookie mistakes. The most general of which is, the book really doesn't need to be as long as it is. Far too often, A will tell B something, which B subsequently tells C, and while that does need to happen on some level, we really don't need it in full pretty much every time. Very occasionally there's an important detail omitted or distorted in the retelling, but they're only easier to miss for being hidden in so much repetition. This helps contribute to a wider sense that it's unclear for what audience The Secret Commonwealth is intended. They're sequels to beloved children's books, certainly – but from fairly early on the F-word is getting dropped in here and there, never to any great purpose or in a way where its substitution would appreciably weaken the scene. The most constructive guess I can make is that it's by way of an early warning to parents who maybe grew up on the earlier books that they shouldn't let their kids read this one yet, a warning mainly justified by one genuinely traumatic scene near the end. Other than that, it's mainly gentle hints that Lyra has indeed now done the sex, not least with one of the supporting characters, the unfortunately named Dick Orchard**, and one really awkward section where a character who first knew Lyra as a literal baby realises they now have a massive crush on her. And while there are some lovely tense scenes scattered among the padding and the disconnects, one of them entirely blows its (admittedly already foreshadowed) big reveal by having it right there in the chapter title.

The themes remain much as one would expect – despite the aforementioned insistence that it's important to believe the world is more than brute matter, Pullman has no more time than he ever did for religion as authority, and that's married now to an equal if not greater suspicion of over-mighty corporations (which, again, I'm not wholly convinced fits the world, but there we are). And alongside the topical fury at post-truth casuistry, and governments with no respect for the rule of law, and a really heavy-handed line about second-hand water cannons, there's a pained awareness of how it feels like the forces of good are always fighting with one hand behind their back, while evil can operate unconstrained. Again, when you consider the forces of good could maybe ask for a hand from the armoured bears and flying witches and so forth, this doesn't really make sense in the context, but hey, Pullman clearly enjoyed writing it. Probably the most affecting of the contemporary nods is the refugee crisis, occasioned by the knock-off Da'esh*** who are tied up with the whole rose business (remember that?). But even here, Pullman lets himself down with another of those rookie mistakes. An important running element in the plot is how strange and unsettling it is for Lyra not to always be tied to her daemon, as most people are. But it seems to vary how easily other people (and daemons) can tell this is the case, rather than eg her having a small daemon which is curled up in her pocket, thank you very much. And its oddness is undermined by Pullman often neglecting to detail what the daemons of other characters are doing, or saying, or simply their presence – something which feels most glaring in the scene where a refugee boat is wrecked, and hearing any detail of what the stricken passengers' daemons are doing would have really served to make fresh what has now somehow become almost an everyday and overfamiliar horror.

Then just when I thought it was going to do that most annoying thing volume 2 of a trilogy can do, and simply end, there's a glimpse of resolution and a cliffhanger which ensured that, whatever my many complaints, I will definitely be back for the conclusion despite it all, despite even that baffling section where everyone suddenly starts talking about stewing eels, which really felt like it must at least be set-up for something, and then wasn't at all.

I'll say this for it, though – the dustjacket is fine, but the book underneath is genuinely beautiful.

*I always preferred that title to Northern Lights – it just fits so much better with The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

**Just when I was starting to get over that, the narrative introduces a chap called van Dongen.

***Who are really blatantly a false-flag operation, and this isn't a spoiler because it never quite gets confirmed in this volume. A fictional trope which has been making me deeply uneasy ever since lunatics and edgelords started treating it as an everyday truth.
Profile Image for Henk.
849 reviews
January 13, 2023
A story that misses the magic of its daemon. Overly long and disappointing in payoff, with too obvious references to the current world to be enchanting
You used to be optimistic. You used to think whatever we did would turn out well.
I used to be young, was all she could find to say.

The pacing
All these things that are changing... like ice breaking under your feet.
Lyra depressed could have also been the title of this hefty addition to the His Dark Materials universe of Philip Pullman. Initially I found The Secret Commonwealth quite an addictive read, with Pullman skillfully dripping information, if sometimes it did strike me unnecessary that events are shown or discussed multiple times, with the characters discover something the reader already knows. And the problems increased while reading further. A lot of people who the characters meet are first filled in on events we as reader already saw, before any new content is added to the scene, making the book feel overly repetitive and slow.

Overall this book has an extreme case of second book syndrome, it feels like a long preparation, quite alike to The Fellowship of the Ring council of Elrond Rivendell scenes (and it takes almost till 50% of the book before the characters move even out of Britain). We know around page 100 there is a mysterious temple and something with roses and a hotel where daemons without their humans go to. Not to spoil anything but at the end of almost 700 pages we still know just that, and only that, and the main characters haven’t even arrived at the teased location...

The distance between Pan and Lyra
I hate every part of me that isn’t you, and I’ll have to live with that. Sometimes I think I could kill myself without killing you, I might do it, I’m so unhappy. I don’t deserve to be happy, i know that.
As said before Lyra is a studying young adult and strikes me as a bit depressed, and her daemon isn't in a better state. Initially this frustration between soulmates is quite interesting and a new turn, but it also feels like a handy plot devices to get the people moving, and show events from even more angles to bog the pace of the story down. Also, however much one dislikes one another, after a murder plot you'd think people (and daemons) would pull it together and not break up over discussion on a book of philosophy of all things. Lyra in this book changes from a carefree, cheeky and sometimes lying charmer to a rather bland and troubled character, and Pan hasn't even got that much character on his own in this book, seriously impeding any connection with either of the main characters in my view.

I did like Malcom, even though him being James Bond and an Oxford scholar, not to mention romantically interested in Lyra after they have seen each other for like three times, stretches credibility:
You’re not as clever as you think.
I dare say you’re right, but I’m cleverer than you think.

The real world seeping in, as do a lot of convenient coincidences
First we could suppress all knowledge of it, by rigorous investigation, by ruthless force. That would work for a while, but knowledge is like water: it always finds gaps to leak through.

How does the Magisterium lives on as a force after the metaphysical battle at the end of the original trilogy? Is that something you are interested in and want to see answered? Well apparently it has zero effect on them and leads them to unite between a new all powerful leader.
This person is the new antagonist, and apparently gets to power by saying things like:
We stand with the majority.
And which way will the majority vote, do you think?
They will vote with me, I hope.

That the antagonists are related to someone respectively of the first trilogy or La Belle Sauvage feels a bit easy, almost Star Wars like in pulling a child of Palpatine from the high hat kind of manner.

And that they are populists with expressed agenda's like: Instead we should delicately and subtly undermine the idea that truth and facts are possible in the first place. Once the people have become doubtful about the truth of anything all kinds of things will be open to us feels overtly on the nose.
What does it matter what anyone believes? The facts are indifferent to belief they even say in this imagined 19th century.

Also the refugee crisis seeps into the story with unrest in the Middle East being a central plot point, and Lyra is warned against (and assaulted by) men, showing the real world (#metoo) seeping into the story even more.

However science is not a panacea either, with the demystifying of the universe being squarely countered by the power of stories and imagination, directly relating to the title of the book
Chapter 20 is a fever trip quite unlike the rest of the book and resting a lot on magic and coincidence, and shows some glimpses of a plan of Pullman to link the events in the book with an old Persian poem, that is not known to me as reader. This makes the allusions he tries to establish oblique and just convenient instead of meaningful.

In general I feel coincidence and the modern world plays a far too great role, for instance Lyra experience an assassination and an overtly clear boat refugee scene in the matter of days, and her even trying to goes to Aleppo.
The Secret Commonwealth sorely disappointed as a read and I was even tempted to give this 1 star if not for the on a sentence level still delightful writing of Pullman. Hopefully he pulls his act together on the last book and gets edited properly.
Profile Image for Allison Denny.
233 reviews2 followers
October 20, 2019
Oh, I was so excited to read this, I've been hoping for a book after The Amber Spyglass for almost 20 years, but I hated this. No book has made me more furious in a long time. The more of this review I write, the madder I realize I am.

I read The Golden Compass when I was 11, the same age as Lyra. It was the perfect book at the right time for me, it's still a perfect book, and coming after that, The Secret Commonwealth was a shot to the gut. I went into it with my secret impossible hope the same as Lyra's: that somehow, no matter what we'd been told, we would get back to Will in this book. Instead, we have this story, which was awful, and 1/3 again as long as it needed to be (we could have cut a lot of the travel), and bleak. And awful. Just bad.

Gutsy, bold, whipsmart Lyra saved every sentient being in the multiverse, and where did it get her? Now she's an adult and she hates herself. She barely remembers the Republic of Heaven. She's turned towards cynicism and denial in an effort to forget the things that hurt--but she can't forget Will, and that doesn't stop hurting. The men she's relied on since we saw her last have all betrayed her. (Yes, Malcolm changing her diapers and then creeping on her as a teenager is a betrayal.) The women she's relied upon are all willing to go to bat for her, and are all proven to be helpless in their efforts. She's lost her boldness. She's cautious and worried, she's desperately lonely, and alone, and sad.

In the larger world, there's some bs subplot about the Magisterium, which is still overreaching and whatever. People everywhere are horrible to their daemons, and their daemons can be horrible back to them. Lyra and Pan have some stupid awful breakup, which is apparently a possibility. I can't even handle this notion. She travels halfway around the world to try to find Pan, trading domestic labor and calling in favors from her ex-boyfriends and being gang-raped as she goes. Gang-raped! Lyra who talked her way out of hell, Lyra who found god in a box and set him free, Lyra who the witches foretold, and in this book, I read about a group of soldiers ripping off her panties and shoving their fingers into her until she's bloody and limping. Just because none of them managed to get his pants down and his dick into her before they're stopped doesn't make it better.

I finished the book and ended it with, I don't know, maybe still the same wish as Lyra. I finished it last night and fell asleep wishing she had stayed with Will. I wish she had spent one good decade with him instead of everything that actually happened. I wish she'd had that time instead of okay years she's had since we saw her last, and the truly bleak options she has for her future.

I hated basically everything that happened in this book. The worst part is, I'm pretty sure I can see the reasoning behind all of it.

Of course this was not going to be 700 pages of Lyra finding windows between worlds and hopping through them until she found Will, or the two of them having some new psychic connection while they're asleep, or the shadows letting them talk to each other through the alethiometer and text messages or whatever. You can't live in your trauma forever; Lyra has to deal with herself (ie Pan) if she's going to have any kind of functional life. The world is bigger than you thought it was when you were 11, and in some ways it's better but in some ways it's worse. Lyra was an 11 year old who saw some shit, but even she didn't see the whole world. Of course some new things are bad.

What pisses me off is, I'm fairly confident Pullman will wrap it up in a way that makes sense. I'm betting Malcolm and Lyra are endgame, which I think is dumb and weird, her atoms and Will's atoms are actually endgame--but UGH, isn't THAT the point? She and Will promised each other to live a full and real life in their own worlds. She can't hold herself in pain and denial for the rest of her life. She has to be open to wonder, and to the experience of her own senses, and to live where she is, if she's ever going to make it to Will's atoms. She has to do it (it being life, it being living) the right way or she might as well not do it at all.

If Lyra and Malcolm have actual real relationship development in the next book, I'm even tentatively open to the two of them. (It's the mooning over each other from afar I find distasteful, as there is definitely an age gap and a power imbalance, nevermind that they don't really know each other at all.) I am just furious about the way in which this is all happening...and that's likely part of the point as well.

Negative eight stars for emotional impact, three stars for mechanics, I'm leaving it at one star for now.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kristen Peppercorn .
551 reviews96 followers
February 1, 2020
11/17/19 - FINALLLLLY! I finished this chunker! Time to tell you my thoughts.

Alright, so it's no secret that the book that I am most bitter about not enjoying in this world is La Belle Sauvage. It's my most liked and commented on review on this site out of the hundreds upon hundreds that I have read and loved, liked or loathed down through the years.

That being said, I was intensely wary of reading this book. Albeit hopeful still. And now, after spending a hulking 11 days on reading this tome, I have finished. The final verdict: It was 100 times better than book one. But I still didn't love it.

My main issue, just like with book one, is that it's too long. And I'm not just saying that because it's 600+ pages. I mean that it needed to be edited down smaller. It's so bogged down with atmosphere and seemingly meaningless details, but because of the way that Pullman writes, you are forced to bog through all of it tediously, just in case it ends up being important later or so that you don't skip over a tiny paragraph that is astoundingly important.

I feel drained after reading it, and honestly, again, just like with book one, allllll those words, but not much has actually happened yet. It's still just setting us up for book three, which I will read, because I hate myself - I mean because I really, REALLY need to see if Lyra and Will get back together.

Which brings me to another thing. Fucking Will.

Pullman, you old bastard, quit teasing me with Will. Throughout this book, Will was hinted at several times, all in small ways but they showed just how important he still remains to Lyra after all these years. That leads me to believe that there's hope of my frickety fracking OTP getting together in the end. But I'm sure, after getting to know a little more about how this author's mind works after sloughing through his books, that it's all just a setup to leave us heartbroken. I bet they'll never find each other again... or if they do, Pullman will have made Will a drunken scoundrel who shoots Lyra in the face and then eats her remains.

Okay, maybe I'm going a little overboard.

Back to topic.

I found myself growing more and more bored in the beginning. Luckily, I had access to the audiobook through the library, because the excited performance of whoever the fuck read this book to me, saved it. He made it much more exciting than it really was for the most part.

I feel like I'm repeating myself now, so I'mma wrap this up soon, but I feel like there were just so many pointless parts and characters that didn't add to the story. Did I REALLY need to know how random English guy #17 takes his tea? No. I don't think so. But, I'mma use this as a lesson for my own writing, because I too tend to overwrite at times. Thank you Philip Pullman, for instilling in me the importance of editing down and killing my darlings. Now if only your own editor would be a little more strict with you.

Writing-wise though, of course it was well written. What else could we expect from one of the genius, mad scientist looking masters of the writing craft?

I feel a little, okay maybe a lot, better about this series after reading book two here, but it's still not the story that I was hoping for. That's my problem though. The author is not at all being forced to write to suit anybody but himself.

Here's to hoping book three leads me to Will and Lyra.

Bye bye now! See you in another 30 years when book three comes out. *waves*

3/5/19 - Ayo, after 35 years of waiting, it has a tentative release date!

La Belle Sauvage was my biggest disappointment of 2017, and yet I keep obsessively checking for the release date for this book. I really hope it comes out this year. I wants it, Precious. And I wants it to be good.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,052 followers
February 25, 2020
687 pages and Mr. Pullman still left me hanging at the top of the highest cliff ever. How long to wait now until we find out what happens to Lyra, Pan and Malcolm? This is a fascinating way to write a series. Book one was set when Lyra was a baby and this book, part 2, is set after the events in His Dark Materials. A series within a series. Very interesting.

The Secret Commonwealth is full of action, lots of deaths, and an almost rape. Pullman is not writing for children in this series. However there is still magic and all those delightful daemons who seem to represent their partner's character so aptly.

This is a doorstop of a book but I raced though it. And wasn't it nice that that the delightful Malcolm has grown up into an equally delightful man!
Profile Image for Joseph Casey.
2 reviews
November 15, 2019
In a similar but much much better world this awful novel was never written.

My wife and I both loved His Dark Materials and consider it one of our absolute favourite stories ever. Our daughter is named Lyra after the protagonist of that series (and this new novel). We both thoroughly enjoyed La Belle Sauvage too and were greatly looking forward to this one. We bought it in hardback and on kindle. The paper copy just a keepsake of what would surely be an amazing book.

To say I am disappointed in this book is a huge understatement. If you are a fan of His Dark Materials no doubt you have already read this but WITH SOME DEGREE OF SPOILER i will try and outline now why it has upset me so much. It started well enough with a little bit of intrigue. Lyra is not nearly as compelling to read as an adult and her relationship with Pan is upsetting. The events of His Dark Materials also seem to have had a bizarrely immaterial effect on the world when one considers the magisterium was on the loosing side of a rather massive conflict. And a quarter of the way through the book Pullman slaps you in the face: crowbarring awkwardly and unnecessarily a 'love' story between characters that is as inappropriate, creepy and morally repugnant as it is a total betrayal of a character's former good nature who was much loved by me before this novel. And leaving me wanting that character to die a profoundly noble death at the earliest opportunity so he might be forgiven for his lecherous sniffing. So profoundly shocking was this ridiculous writing decision that I felt like putting my kindle down and not reading more. The book then progressively turns into a more and more extraordinarily boring snorefest of one irritating nothing after another - with absolutely no imperative whatsoever driving the reader to turn the pages and read on to the end.

The story is a nonsensical mishmash of odd encounters and ideas with no substantive overarching gripping plot. Very few likeable or even very believable characters - adult versions of formerly child characters now dull stereotypes. What can only be described as gratuitous use of threat of, and actual, sexual violence was as insensitively written as it was irrelevant and unjustified in narrative terms, whilst being extraordinarily distressing to the reader. And along with a feeling that the author arbitrarily and morbidly wished to focus on sinister threats the context and subsequent narrative came off as being both misogynistic and culturally offensive or racist etc.

I read La Belle Sauvage in a night. This book was a grinding mission that took me several hateful days to wade through. Even the end of the book - with the exception of a couple of sections back in Oxford - was thoroughly dull. Excruciatingly dull.

My wife finished it before me and we agreed (as did friends of hers) on the above points made.

Read His Dark Materials, and read La Belle Sauvage - and if after that you have fallen in love with the characters therein: LEAVE THIS BOOK WELL ALONE.

I am returning the hardback copy for a refund - we do not want a keepsake of this horrific failure. In fact, I am seeing a hypnotherapist to see if the memory of it can be substantively repressed.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,644 reviews5,092 followers
November 17, 2020
the book is a fascinating experience full of mystery, emotion, memorable scenes, and real world relevance. the book is a disappointing experience that has somehow lost the magic of its predecessor, let alone the original trilogy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

while remaining true to his basic belief system that organized religion - Christianity, in prior books - is at the root of much of the evils of the world, in Secret Commonwealth the author widens his net to catch the fanatical side of Islam as well. I appreciated that because I think all major religions have done and continue to do majorly problematic things. and also I didn't appreciate it. mainly because it is actually fun for me to read about the villainous intrigues and politicking of the Magisterium while it was distinctly un-fun for me to read about the bloodthirsty soldiers who come down from their mountain to rant incoherently, slaughter families, decimate villages, and create a refugee crisis all across the world with their vicious deeds. not sure why I can find enjoyment in one but only weariness and palpable repulsion in the other. I mean, both sorts of religions have no problem murdering people, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

there is another evil abroad in the world: young people are losing their imagination! "Young people don't believe in the secret commonwealth ... It's all chemistry and measuring things, as far as they're concerned. They got an explanation for everything, and they're all wrong." this is mainly due to the pernicious influence of a philosopher turned bestselling author and a gadfly turned darling of the ivory tower - two very intriguing new villains to the series who parallel each other in interesting ways. and yet this was also unconvincing. there is now an existential threat to the minds and creative spirits of young people... due to two bestselling books? really? well I suppose this is definitely a fantasy series! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, sorry. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

there were other things I found unconvincing, or frustrating. or just annoying. and I don't think I've felt annoyed by any other Pullman book. first of all, I hated the whole logic behind Pan leaving Lyra. I know that it inspires Lyra's entire journey, internally and externally... but the reasons behind it are so irritating. he leaves her because she's now a bitch with no imagination and so he takes off in search of... her imagination? for real? does Pan not realize how corny he's being? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ second on my list of annoyances: apparently this happens to other people in the world now - people and daemons just separate from each other because reasons? Pullman supplies many reasons, but none of them really landed with me in a way that felt genuine. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ third: Mal falling in love with Lyra was ugh. fourth: this new villain Olivier Bonneville is laughable - especially compared to his genuinely creepy and threatening father from the last book. and fifth on the annoyance list: those gay priest characters were over the top in a way that felt like a cheap potshot on the Catholic Church and some of its issues with predatory priests. so that's five big annoyances. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

fortunately there were things that I really enjoyed in the book as well. I did like the whirlwind tour of a Europe that felt somehow under siege by forces beyond anyone's understanding. the visit to an iconoclastic author's house was fascinating and very disconcerting. the visit to an ancient aristocrat's mansion was also fascinating - she was a fabulous character! the machinations of new villain Marcel Delamare were absorbing. my jury is still out on his family backstory, and why it was necessary to link him that way to Lyra, but his mother was a great one-scene villain. and as much as Lyra bothered me in this book, what she is going through is reflective of what a lot of people her age actually go through, so kudos to Pullman for successfully making the transition from the children's world of the prior books to the young adult world of this book. so yeah, despite my complaints, there were still many things that I enjoyed about this book sitting side by side with the things that gave me no enjoyment. and the first couple hundred pages were riveting. Pullman is an often amazing writer and storyteller. I just wish he had written another perfect book. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Profile Image for Eleanor Slater.
218 reviews36 followers
August 28, 2019
I count myself very lucky to have been able to read an advance copy of this book - thank you Penguin Random House for making that happen!

Think back to when you were little and a new book in a series you loved (most people insert Harry Potter here) was due out, think of the excitement, the anticipation, the thrill of holding that volume in your hands. That is how I felt holding this book. And that feeling was rewarded tenfold.

Pullman had worried me a little with La Belle Sauvage... He didn't seem to have as firm a grasp on his own world as I would have liked, something seemed off and the language and feel of Oxford didn't tally up with the original Northern Lights. Yet here in The Secret Commonwealth is the version of Oxford I fell in love with as an eight year old. Here is the Lyra I know so well, here is the steadfast and utterly loyal Pan I longed to have for my own. Time unspooled and I was reading with the joy of a child once more - I can't tell you how grateful I am for that experience!

I won't fill this review with any spoilers, I will just say that what follows in this deliciously chunky book is an adventure of brilliant scope, filled with chance encounters, bizarre happenings, and a touch of fate. Masterfully crafted by Philip Pullman to tie up ends you didn't even know were loose and simultaneously unwind things you believed to be fact, to ultimately reveal an ever shifting and fascinating world.

Basically if you've ever read His Dark Materials (even if you skipped La Belle Sauvage... Which I don't recommend doing!) then you've GOT to read this.
Profile Image for Simon Clark.
Author 1 book4,938 followers
February 12, 2020
Definitely the most mature of Pullman's works involving daemons - the two trilogies of His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust - The Secret Commonwealth remarkably responds to the main criticisms of the previous book in the series in a way that is entirely consistent with the story. The book carries on the story of La Belle Sauvage but with the interlude of Lyra's adventures in His Dark Materials, and we now find her as an undergraduate at Oxford while Malcolm is an academic and - dashingly - a capable secret agent for Oakley Street. The main hook of the story is that the Magisterium - seemingly (confusingly?) unaffected by The Authority blowing away in the wind - has its sinister eyes set of the rose oil trade in the east, while Pantalaimon witnesses a murder in Oxford that sets events in motion.

Pullman is undoubtedly a wonderful author with a particular talent for worldbuilding and word-smithing, but the previous book was let down for me by what I perceived to be a lacklustre second half, and in particular a deepening dive into the fantastical. For a series that contains many fantastical creatures and events, there has always been a sense of 'groundingness', that things described were rational and could be explained. By the tail end of the events of the great flood however, this connection to reality became completely severed and the plot floated through in a dream-like state. What is remarkable about The Secret Commonwealth is that its entire premise - connected to the titular commonwealth - is the nature of rationality versus the fantastical, and how belief shapes reality. It was almost as if Pullman was responding to the criticisms of the previous volume, or, perhaps more likely, he fully intended to elicit a reaction similar to mine from adult readers who grew up reading His Dark Materials when reading La Belle Sauvage and then to make them see the folly of their ways by comparing them to Lyra's ardent rationalism. It's a quite brilliant bit of meta-gaming the audience, and utterly enthralled this particular now-grown-up.
Apart from this the story is fantastically interesting, taking Lyra and Pantalaimon across Europe and the near East, though not together... We are introduced to a real treat of world-deepening, and between both the 'real' realpolitik and action and the fantasy elements both witnessed and described the book is never less than enthralling. Standing on its own it doesn't pack quite the same wallop as The Amber Spyglass but I think it could be my favourite book set in this universe, and it certainly has me on the edge of my armchair for the final volume. I loved this book, and cannot wait to find out how the story ends.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,964 followers
December 6, 2019
Something strange just happened.

After having just read La Belle Sauvage and also having just read the original His Dark Materials trilogy (for the second time, but again, recently), I have come to the conclusion that this might be my favorite of all five books.

Weird, right?

I mean, I liked the original trilogy well enough but I never went gaga over it. Maybe it was about the problem of agency. Or perhaps it was a few other issues. But I never disliked all the wonderful pan-religiosity, the many subversions, references, and the overall worldbuilding.

And then the first Book of Dust came along and while I thought the whole quest was somewhat interesting, it never lived up to the whole promise of the rest. I mean, if you can sum up the entire damn book in a single sentence and the sentence bores you, you know you have a problem.

So what happened here? All of a sudden we have a Lyra 7 years after the events of HDM and she's a young woman with a problem. A meme problem. A mental health problem. She's having issues with Pan and Pan is having (I rather think,) more issues with her. I'm on Pan's side here. Lyra's behaving abominably.

That being said, Pullman has pulled off a much more complicated tale than the first book, adding a real good reason FOR the first book, giving us many new reasons why Lyra's world is falling apart while also making a huge commentary on Europe's current issues in general. The worldbuilding is obviously commentary. But it's GOOD commentary.

Add all the spycraft, the mystery, the book-long chase and the quest that seems to revolve around separated Daemons, and all of a sudden, the Big Picture finally got interesting again. I missed that in the first book. A lot. In fact, if it wasn't for the need for the investment in a few certain characters in THIS book, I might say... skip the first book. Just skip it. The Lyra baby survives the flood and gets Sanctuary. Move on.

But seen in this next book's light, I have to admit it all comes together rather nicely. Even if there is a 20 year gap. At least Pullman is able to pull off some rip-roaring good tales full of episodic action, great timing, and a million interesting characters. I never got bored with this one at all.

Just a warning, tho:

Profile Image for Sara.
369 reviews322 followers
April 4, 2021
This is a long, and in many ways, a very strange book. For context, I am a HUGE fan of the original trilogy and grew up reading and rereading the books. Will and Lyra are two of my all time favorite book characters so I am definitely biased toward this story.

There were quite a few bits of this that I enjoyed and quite a few bits that I didn't. A lot of characters were introduced in this installment but not a lot actually happened.
I LOVED being reunited with Lyra and I thought the concept of her and Pan being estranged was an interesting one to explore. However like many, I hated the assault scene and found it unnecessary.
There were a few moments in this story that made me question whether the author had ever met a woman or why he thought a teacher/pupil relationship was the way to go. Malcom is a character I really do like and i'm interested to see what part he plays in the whole story but its officially canon he was in love with a 15 year old whilst being 26 so you know, yuck.

I think I did enjoy the overall plot of this story and I am undoubtedly interested in seeing how it all pays off. Will definitely pick up the next book in the series.
Profile Image for Celeste.
905 reviews2,340 followers
October 31, 2019
Pullman has created something so special with Lyra’s world and the mythos of other worlds he set up in the original His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage, the first installment of this spin-off trilogy, took us back to Lyra’s beginning, giving up the wild story of her infancy and the two children who rescued her. This second installment fast forwards to years after the events of the original trilogy, when Lyra is grown, having just tipped over the cusp of adulthood. The final events of that first trilogy haunt her still, but she is convincing herself more and more that those events aren’t quite true. As she falls into the trap of rationality Pantalaimon, her dæmon, rebels against her loss of imagination. From there, the plot goes wild.

Seeing Lyra as an adult was both thrilling and heartbreaking. She’s been through so much by this point, but she’s begun to lose the ferocity and uniqueness that made her so compelling in His Dark Materials. Adult Lyra seems like a pale imitation of childhood Lyra, and Pan is incredibly upset about the change. Seeing the two of them at odds and at each other’s throats is incredibly uncomfortable. Dæmons are like the outward expression of a person’s soul, and so we can see that Lyra’s quarreling with Pan is at its core a level of self-hatred that is hard to stomach. The journeys taken in this book are made all the more poignant for it.

Something that I really love about this book is the multitude of plot lines happening simultaneously but coming across as spokes in the same story instead of separate stories that the reader hopes will come together. The jump from one plot to the next never felt jarring, but like a natural progression in the overarching story. Besides Lyra’s and Pan’s perspectives, we also get to see a lot of the story from Malcolm’s point of view, and a small bit from Alice’s, as well. Unlike La Belle Sauvage, which could technically be read without having first read His Dark Materials, The Secret Commonwealth would be incredibly confusing for readers who have not read both the first trilogy and La Belle Sauvage. The preceding four books are absolutely essential to both the understanding and enjoyment of this book.

My absolute favorite element of The Secret Commonwealth is the expansion of knowledge we’re given regarding dæmons. Strangely, this new information makes the dæmons more mysterious instead of less. There isn’t really any of this new knowledge that I can share in a review without somehow spoiling the plot, but it was all totally fascinating. The story also spanned much of Lyra’s world that we hadn’t seen up to this point, and it was interesting to see how it was eerily similar and radically different from our own world. We see how prejudice and fear of anyone who is different plague Lyra’s world as much as our own, and how religion so often inflames these prejudices instead of abating them.

I was completely enthralled by The Secret Commonwealth, but the ending felt so abrupt that it actually shocked me and left me a little angry. I felt cheated out of witnessing something that the entire novel had been building toward. While I am sure it happened, it did so off screen so to speak. Honestly, I frantically flipped back, hoping I had accidentally skipped a few pages. No such luck. Had I known how jarring I would find the ending I would’ve waited to read it until closer to the still unknown publication date of the final installment before reading The Secret Commonwealth.

Pullman wrote something wonderful in The Secret Commonwealth, despite the abrupt ending. Waiting for the final installment is going to be painful, but I have no doubt that it’ll be worth the wait. Pullman has yet to disappoint me, and I can’t wait to see how the phase of Lyra’s story ends.

You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Daniela.
167 reviews91 followers
March 28, 2021
To review this book is an arduous task. I definitely had a few moments when I was just about to set it down and tell myself, no, no, I can’t. I did muddle through and was greatly rewarded. This second instalment of the Book of Dust series, a kind-of-but-not-really sequel to His Dark Materials, is a better book than the first in terms of plot and character development – because there is actual character development. Lyra, whom we leave at 13 in HDM, now returns as a young woman embroiled in the kind of devastating turmoil only people in their 20s can find themselves in because it’s an indelible and irreplaceable part of growing up.

However, it’s not without flaws. Pullman is so used to write for children that he still feels the need to spell everything out for the reader. Because he needs to move the plot forward, otherwise, I suppose, we would end up with a thousand-page novel, some of the scenes feel a bit rushed.

The fight between reason and emotion, perhaps the book's major theme, is basically Pullman’s response to those who think scepticism, especially of a (ir)religious nature, must necessarily be unimaginative and boring. Stories and the ability to create them are what we use to come closer to ourselves and others.

At the same time, the machinations inside the Magisterium (aka, Pullman’s overbearing and tyrannical Church) and the new villains he introduced were nothing short of amazing, and a good match for Mrs Coulter’s awfulness and complexity.

I suppose the mark of a good book is that it leaves you wanting more. Pullman ended this one on a cliffhanger and the knowledge that he hasn’t even started writing the third book makes me positively mad and anxious about the fate of his characters, both old and new.
Profile Image for Sarah Holton.
105 reviews11 followers
October 17, 2019
CW: for rape, gross power dynamics between love interests, suicide, Spoilers.

Let me just say that I love His Dark Materials. That trilogy was formidable in shaping me. I still reread it at least every 2 or so years and enjoy it just as much with each new reading. (Shout out to the audio version!) and I really enjoyed La Belle Sauvage also. I had a few quibbles but nothing that would keep me from adding it to the biannual reread. But I could barely finish The Secret Commonwealth.
First off this is not a middle grade novel. It is well into YA territory and didn’t make the jump very well either. I am fine with sex and violence and cussing. I mostly read adult novels and am also a big fan of having series grow in maturity with their characters over time. But this didn’t do a gradual growth along with the characters like Harry Potter did. This did a big jump from 11 year olds who survive a big flood journey (although with a completely unnecessary but not super graphic rape scene) to adults who watch someone blow their brains out (including vivid details of blood splatter) and a very graphic and completely unnecessary rape scene. This book (and La Belle Sauvage too) could have been kept as a middle grade and not lost any of the story. Hell it probably would have been better for it.

The story itself felt all over the place. The pacing was disjointed and I just felt pulled in a bunch of different directions with no real rhythm to it. It leans much more political intrigue and much less fantastical and feels weaker for it. It felt like Pullman had a big list of things he was mad about and tried to figure out a way to get them all included. Which is fine! Part of why I love fantasy is how it used the fantastic as a metaphor for real world issues! I have read many books where this works! But it really doesn’t here. It just feels preachy and without a pulse. This needed a heavier hand editing. What even is the plot? So many characters and ideas introduced and then left behind. There are so many decisions that characters make that just dont really make any sense except that Pullman is trying to Make A Point.

I had a really hard time caring about characters. They all felt so flat. This feeling is intensified because we have spent so much time with these same characters in previous stories only to completely change the fundamentals of the characters we know and love. The only explanation we are given for this is that ‘well 20 years has past so of course they have grown and changed.’ Its very frustrating.
Lyra for example. I adore preteen Lyra. She is spunky and headstrong and is confident in herself. 20 year old Lyra does not critically think for herself, is anxiety-ridden, and very unsure. That is something I can totally relate to! But you have to give me a bridge to how she got there! Lyra is like a completely different person and it is jarring, especially with the timeline jumping between the HDM trilogy and in The Book of Dust trilogy. I wish The Secret Commonwealth had a chapter or two at the beginning that bridged the time gap between the end of HDMs and The Secret Commonwealth. One that touched on how Pan and Lyra dealt with the trauma of all they had been through, including separating. That would help us see how Lyra got to where she is mentally - using pure reason as a trauma defense mechanism. (Are there no therapists in this world??) As someone with bad anxiety, I get it and I want to read about one of my favorite characters struggle with this balance. especially if you throw in academia into the mix. But we dont really even get that satisfactorily explored. I would be super into exploring Lyra’s attempt to balance out the ‘adult’ tendencies of pure logic and skepticism with her ‘child-like’ tendencies of thinking outside the box and being headstrong and energetic. But again that doesn’t really happen. Lyra has a few overly verbose conversations with herself that reminded me of some mind-numbingly boring Tinder dates with dudes who considered themselves philosophers but really just liked to hear themselves talk. Its not that she is unlike-able. Unlikable is fine. Its just that I am not invested in her as a character, even though 11 year old Lyra is one of my favorite characters ever.
And its not just seeing how Lyra got to where she was but how Pan did also. His whole ‘I am leaving to search for your imagination’ thing felt ridiculous. Its as if Pan thinks that Lyra’s imagination is a solid thing that could be kept in a box and was physically stolen. Are you still 8 years old Pan? I could see Pan saying “I’m leaving until you get your imagination back” as a way to say “I am leaving until you think on things and get right with yourself” but thats not how it comes off. Pan is going on a quest to find a solid thing and it just feels like a cheap plot device to separate the two.
Another character that didn’t make the transition very well is Malcolm. He was great in La Belle Sauvage! And now he feels older than his early 30’s and is made super creepy by his being romantically in love with Lyra since forever. He has know her since a baby. He was in love with her when he was HER TEACHER in his mid twenty’s and she in her mid teens. THAT IS GROSS. And to try to excuse that by having another female character say that it is fine because they are both adults now, psh, I call bullshit. Its not just about what is legal or not, but where you are in life experiences. Plus the only real interactions we are told that Malcom has with Lyra is when he was trying to teach her when she was 15 and that she was a little shit and he was a boring old teacher. If he was ‘in love’ with her then, it certainly wasnt because they shared some deep common bond. It would have had to been that he was physically attracted to her and was in love with the idea of her. You can not truly be in love with a person if you dont actually know the person. But we are supposed to believe that it is pure love because Malcolm is a Nice Guy. Again this is just so gross. Lyra is not interested in Malcolm, doesn’t even like him as a person. Sees him as an old professor, that she just doesn’t particularly click with. Then she finds out that he knew and saved her as a baby, and is forced to see him in a new light. That’s all fine and well, but after that one storytelling evening, we are supposed to believe that Lyra is going to fall in love with him after having only that one interaction?? Lyra keeps having conversations with older women who suggest that one can fake being in love with someone, that you can learn to love someone, that friendship can turn into romantic love if given enough time and you try. It feels so dang forced. His Dark Materials trilogy already explored the whole Adam and Eve allegory, did we really need to attempt to do it again?
And the whole ancient epic poem about the lovers fighting her uncle and searching for magical roses, was just way to on the nose. Like really??? Did it have to fit so dang perfect? I would not have rolled my eyes nearly so hard if Mal had tried to grasp at straws to find similarities and Aster called him out on it.

Aside from the all-over-the-place storytelling I have a really big problem with Pullman’s handling of women. I’ve already talked about the gross Mal/Lyra thing. There is completely unnecessary conversation that just shits all over sex workers for no reason. Like literally, there is zero reason for this to be included. There is a section that hits upon how the deamon’s gender is always the opposite of the person. I was really disappointed (but ultimately not surprised) that this wasnt used as an opportunity to break out of the hetero-norm instead of reinforcing it. And then my biggest problem - graphic is unnecessary rape scenes.
There is really no reason for Lyra to get raped. Why is this here Pullman?? To make this book a bit edgier so as not to be middle grade? To show the hardships that Lyra had to go through to find her daemon? Why do women always have to get raped?? And when she is ‘safe’, her first though is to blame her rape on Pan? Because if he had never left then she would never have been on that training car with those soldiers and gotten raped. What?? This story misses absolutely nothing if the whole dang scene had been deleted. (Same with the rape scene from La Belle Sauvage. I am still mad about it).

I am just so frustrated. I hate to leave a series unfinished, but I dont know if I will make time to read the final book in the trilogy. Life is too short to read books you dont enjoy.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rosalind.
92 reviews11 followers
October 15, 2019
It's not been a good year for the roses. It's bad enough that the perfume industry is on its knees, but when the steward of Jordan College has to make do with cheap rosewater for the fingerbowls you know the world's in trouble.

The Book of Dust must be one of the most eagerly-awaited literary projects ever. It's been promised for sixteen years now, and those who hunted between the lines of that curious 2004 artefact, Lyra's Oxford, could have a reasonable guess at where it might be going, so hopes have been high. The first episode, La Belle Sauvage, came off very well with its odd mix of gritty intrigue and Lewis Carroll-like Phantasy contrasting nicely to lead us into the main course. But oh dear, the main course is a bit of a bloated mess.

It's not that, overall, it's not an enjoyable read. It is. But it's also very baggy, rather hesitant in places, inconsistent in its style. It feels like a book that was hard to write. It doesn't have the sure-footedness of The Amber Spyglass, which left me reeling for a week when I finished it. It doesn't seem to know whether it's addressed to a new audience of younger teenagers or to the original audience for His Dark Materials, now grown up and even perhaps approaching middle-age. There are some very dark passages including one particularly graphic scene which, while brilliantly written, I would be very wary of having my 12-year-old daughter read for fear of scaring her shitless. There are passages of sheer poetry. I think Philip Pullman secretly wants to write Le Carré-like thrillers or gritty police procedurals; if he did I'm sure they would be very good. Then again there are other stretches of great clunkiness which break the flow while the narrative signposts links back to the earlier work, relevant or not. We can remember, Phil, we can remember, but if you want to remind us, do it a bit more subtly. Something else too; His Dark Materials had a message which was seamlessly wrapped in the narrative. This new episode feels like a lecture, and a hectoring one at that. Look, the world of the imagination is fine, but there's nothing wrong with writing novels that deconstruct and challenge expectations, or advancing minimalist philosophical notions. They are not to be taken as gospel, they are no more solid than the marsh spirits and faeries that make up the Secret Commonwealth. They are to be disputed - Lyra, we are told, is good at disputing philosophical ideas but we are never shoiwn her in action. In fact wbat a lot of my discomfort with this book comes down to is too much telling and not enough showing.

It all begins with a murder. Which is good. Well no, it begins with Lyra being studious, scratching away at her dissertation in her college room while Pantalaimon the dæmon sprawls on the windowledge, bored and yearning for adventure. And there's the hook; Lyra and Pan have fallen out, they are barely on speaking terms. Meaning of course that Lyra is ill at ease with herself. Actually I liked this clever, feisty, self-sufficient Lyra who drinks pints and has passionate flings with no commitment. That's as it should be; at the end of The Amber Spyglass she was tasked with building the Republic of Heaven in her own world. Most important, she really needed to move on from Will, who isn't coming back (if he does in part three I will feel seriously short-changed). Not forget him, but not mope either. There's something rather creepy about a twenty-year-old woman still carrying a torch for her childhood sweetheart and I was glad that pitfall was avoided. Or I was at first. After those first few chapters we discover that scarcely a day goes by without her thinking of Will. Oh dear, Not good. Not healthy. Not helpful.

So it goes, so it goes. The Magisterium is on Lyra's case again and the scheming Big Bad just happens to be... No, I won't spoil it, it's all too pat. Her life is in danger and that's the signal for a rehash of old friends - a cruise with the Gyptians, the alethiometer (which appears to have previously unsuspected powers) - and an incident-filled journey across Europe and the Levant (Lyra and estranged Pan travelling by different routes) pursued by the rather creepy, mild-mannered Don turned man of action Malcolm Polstead towards a reunification and reconciliation that...

...Oh dear. After 700 pages that could usefully be cut by a third, its 'to be continued'. No doubt I'll read the continuation, because I know Philip Pullman can do better than this. And I'm still waiting to see why the SS Zenobia leaves Famagusta on Wednesday 30 April and arrives Latakia in Friday 1 May.
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
489 reviews596 followers
October 20, 2019
Hmmm... As a big fan of His Dark Materials, The Secret Commonwealth was one of my most anticipated books of the year. So three stars might seem a little negative, but I will explain.

First, a quick summary. These events take place twenty years after La Belle Sauvage. Lyra is now a young woman studying at Oxford, but we soon realise that she is deeply unhappy. She and her daemon Pantalaimon cannot stop arguing and it's tearing both of them apart. Lyra has become fascinated by two books espousing hyperrational thought, and Pan is horrified by this, claiming she has abandoned all use of her wonderful imagination. On a solitary late night excursion, Pan witnesses a murder. It seems to be related to the emergence of a rose in Central Asia that bestows mysterious special powers. In her efforts to investigate, Lyra gets involved with a secret agency to which Malcolm Polstead belongs. Their adventure will send them on separate journeys across Europe into Asia, but they will have to reckon with the dark forces of the Magisterium, and a dangerous young man by the name of Bonneville.

Once again, Pullman manages to frame his story with the anxieties of the world we currently live in. Terrorism, the refugee crisis, the growth of right wing authoritarianism - these subjects are all skilfully woven into the plot. And of course he takes many swipes at organised religion, a target that readers of His Dark Materials will be quite accustomed to.

However, my main problem is this: for a lot of the book, the stakes don't feel as high as they normally do in Lyra's world. Yes the fact that she and her beloved Pan have split up is awful, but it's not as gripping as her fight to save humankind as an eleven-year-old. The importance of the rose oil is quite muddled - it's only in the second half of the novel that this aspect becomes coherent. Also one character being in love with another just feels plain wrong

The story really picks up steam when Lyra leaves Oxford. Once again, she is forced to use her wits and that trusty imagination to escape several perilous situations. Also, it helps that the consequences of the battle for rose oil become clearer, along with the intentions of the villains. It is a pleasure to see these familiar characters at a later stage in their lives, tackling a whole new set of problems. It's a world that never fails to enthrall and surprise, with one of the most resourceful heroines you are likely to meet. Though I had a few problems with this book, I am absolutely eager to read the next installment.
Profile Image for Nils Jepson.
187 reviews11 followers
October 6, 2019
I'm exhausted!! Probably compared to some of y'all I'm slow going but this book was a long, arborous, not always entertaining journey!! And I think that might've been the point!!

I worked my fucking way through The Secret Commonwealth. I know why Philip Pullman did what he did I think but god damn it got to be kind of hard sometimes. This really was not a kids book. I don't even know if it was a YA book! I saw a review or something before talking about how this book was being marketed to adults and i was like ok, yeah, like how the Harry Potter books were PG 13 after Goblet of Fire but no! It's not just the violence that makes The Secret Commonwealth adult. It's the politics and the darkness and the rape and the trauma of childhood and the fucking philosophical nihilisms of a depressed 20 year old girl.

I love Lyra. I might've loved her even more after this. But I couldn't help but keep getting overwhelmed with sadness when I thought about what had happened to her since the Amber Spyglass. Maybe I was mourning my own lost of childhood and imagination. Or not. But damn Lyra's going through shit. It was hard to read about her questioning the validity of imagination and the North and her experiences in the other worlds. Sometimes it felt like the first three books were invalidated because Lyra herself was invalidating them. It was heartbreaking and really hard to read.

Yet I think that was the point! Lyra's world has lost all of its magic, adventure, fun, and heart because Lyra has lost all of those things. Her world just looks like ours now, Daemons aside (but then again, she lost her Daemon so maybe not aside)! It's in political upheaval, hegemonies are tightening, big pharma has a huge monopoly, refugees are fleeing places destabilized from western imperialism and capitalism, and young people are drowning in their own ideologies.

I kept waiting for something fantastical or insane or heart-warming to happen and it just didn't. Sure, there was a quest and a mystery involving desert roses and a haunted village but none of these things were "fun" or "imaginary", they just were. The quest just sort of rolled out, city after city, step by step and I was like okay?? When is Lyra going to meet a one eyed pirate elf or something?? and she never did!

HDM was so fantastical and moral and life-affirming (honestly those 3 books, the 3rd ones especially, shaped so much of my belief system) that I would often cry because I believed in what I was reading. There was nothing really to believe here. It reflects the mind of a lost girl, lost to reason and away from any sort of joy in living. This book reflected this loss and it was hard to read, if necessary.

Yet, honestly, our Lyra was still there and that might've been the best part. Under all of her struggles and questions and wishy-washy declarations, she's still there. my favorite scene of the book is one where she just sits on a hotel room balcony in Istanbul and watches the people at the cafe below her, just live. nothing else happens — no assasin or crazy priest come to try to kill her, no witch, no ghost, no charming cowboy. she just watches people and, slowly, starts to feel like herself again.\

all in all, this book is frustrating. but i trust pullman. i think he wants us to feel mad and betrayed. he wants us to feel hollow. this, in itself, might be the journey of the "Book of Dust." A journey away from ideological totality and towards joy. Joy that doesn't necessarily have to come from anything fantastical but can sprout from the ordinary. from a small cafe. from a man giving a child a deck of cards. to a secretary finally standing up for herself.

the secret commonwealth, a metaphor (even named a metaphor in the book) is realized in the faerieis and goblins and jacky lanters in the book. but i think pullman, in real life, is trying to say that the secret commonwealth is nothing more than the joy that comes from connection. from life and sexuality. this book is an example of what happens when that joy goes missing. like lyra, we feel hollow and sad and alone. but, like lyra towards the end of the book, no matter how broken or lost or hollow we are, we can make our way back.

we'll just need a third book to get there. i can't wait to see what happens.
Profile Image for Shima.
889 reviews281 followers
July 17, 2020
I was excited about La Bella Sauvage AND its sequel, which I imagined would follow Malcum's adventures.
But a book with (relatively) grown-up Lyra, set AFTER the original trilogy?
It's not the stuff dreams are made of, but the stuff I never even dared dream of.

Update after my dreams came true:

So, I can confirm that this book, is in fact real. I have held it in my hand. I have read it with my own eyes (In fact, it's the first book in 15 years that I've read with my very own eyes, and that was a choice, not a coincidence, and yes, you should most definitely get lasic. Reading without glasses just opens up a whole new world of reading positions)
I read it. The first book with Lyra Silvertounge, who has grown up right beside me. (I was 11 when she was 11, I'm 22 when she is 20. So, I think time runs just a little behind on her world.)
I'm so so mad.
Horribly frustrated.
Because that was not how the book was supposed to end.

I have a deal with myself in writing reviews. I don't go and look at other reviews, or the synopsis and cover for the next book in a series until I finish writing the review. I've never had as much trouble with that rule as right now. I need to look at the next book's publication date. I need to know that it's coming out preferably tomorrow, maximum by the end of the week.
Because what the hell? That wasn't even a cliffhanger. I just turned the page and I got to the acknowledgements, and Philip Pullman didn't even offer an explanation.
I demand an explanation.

I don't know if at some point I should actually start an attempt at writing a coherent review. I can offer this much though. I was terribly excited when I heard about this book, stopped-my-heart kind of excitement, and I was terribly scared. I'm not the type who thinks bad later instalments can ruin a beloved series, not something like Harry Potter or The old kingdom or His dark materials. They are beyond getting ruined, so any new instalment I don't like I just view as fanfiction. Even the very worst ones offer a way to revisit the places and people you love.
So it wasn't that I thought this could ruin my childhood. Not really.
But what if I hated who Lyra grew up to be? What if the book was terribly boring? What if it changed the world I loved instead of deepening it? What if it did something like suddenly deciding Lyra couldn't get back to Narnia because she liked makeup? (Some wounds never heal!)
Beyond that though, I wanted it to be good.

Even in my pissed-off dazed state, I can tell you that much at least. It's good.
It's complicated and strange, difficult at times, heart-pounding, important, it's new.
It is NOT Philip Pullman just telling the same story again.
If you thought Lyra's world was vast and colourful and surprising before, just you wait. If you had a thousand and one questions about Daeomons and humans, just you wait.
And it's Lyra.
It's Lyra, a grown-up, changed woman, uncertain and questioning herself and her world, lonely, naive and experienced at the same time, but it's Lyra, and I loved her more now, because she might be one of the only characters whose experiences at the beginning of their twenties rang true to me.

In a lot of ways, this book is a slow one. (Never you mind that I could hardly put it down). There is a lot of philosophy, and not so much witches and armoured bears, but one thing remains the same. Lyra's story remains real in the way only the best fantasy books can be. It is real, not literally, but in all the ways that matter.

But, this is not a five-star review.

And would I have given this four stars if this wasn't Lyra, and if this wasn't the world of Deamons and oxford and the altheiometer from the first writer who thought me about atheism?
I don't know.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,938 followers
November 20, 2019
I finished this one on audiobook just now, and I think the narrator of this story did a brilliant job bringing everything to life. I love the HDM series from when I was a child, and still love it as an adult when I re-read it about a year or so ago. The first book in this series left me a cooler than the HDM series, but I still enjoyed the adventure even though in that one Lyra is just a baby. In this story we have skipped forward by 20 years so we're now beyond the ending of HDM and I loved getting the chance to go back and see what's become of Lyra and her world.

I think in this series Pullman sets up a much more political and international landscape for the characters. In the HDM series we see a young girl filled with a sense of adventure and it's magic and mayhem throughout, in the BoD series we're seeing a young lady who has come out the other side of the adventure having lost a lot of herself, her loves, and sacrificed much. She's not the same child she was, and yet, there are still flashes back to the Lyra we love.

Pan and Lyra have a really tough relationship in this story and as a reader who loved their relationship before it's hard to see them have to fight and have a strain on everything. They really have a lot of communication issues and struggles, and at first this is so disheartening as a reader. I do think that as the story goes on we get to know their real feeling more and I see the love that's still buried deep, but there are some things that happen in this story which really baffled me and which I am shocked to see Pan agree to and Lyra to learn of.

We also follow Malcolm's story as he's on an adventure to find Lyra and also to find out more about the Rosewater mystery which seems to be impacting a lot of the investigations he's involved with. Malcolm is 11 years senior to Lyra and was the real hero of book 1 in this series, but he's much more background here and I wasn't too sure what I made of his characters as he seemed to be a little too much like a follower for my liking.

The adventure of this book is all about self-discovery and confrontation. Lyra and Pan must both face some very hard realities about what they have been through and how it left them feeling. There's a lot of hatred and resentment towards themselves and it leaves the story with a sense of loss and sadness which is hard to read. There's also an attempted rape in this book and that shows the bitter, twisted nature of some of the individuals, and also that this is not a kid's story any more, it's moved on to darker areas and more morally grey questions.

On the whole I think it's a very enticing read and one I found hard to stop listening to. I definitely think it's an advancement on the adventure of the first series, but it's also a tougher read too. I liked it a lot and I am super intrigued for book 3 now because there's a lot of craziness at the end of this book. 4*s from me.
Profile Image for The Luna Librarian Jo R.
357 reviews9 followers
August 31, 2019
I received an advance copy of The Secret Commonwealth from Penguin Random House - as a massive fan of Philip Pullman this was one of the greatest moments of my bookselling career so far.

When you love a series of books so much it can be a little daunting to read a new prequel or sequel in case it doesn’t live up to your expectations and ends up tainting the rest of the series for you. So although I couldn’t wait to read it, I was also a little apprehensive. I needn’t have worried.

We rejoin Lyra 10 years after the original books ended and meet many new characters as well as reconnecting with ones we’ve met before. It was such a pleasure to dive back into Lyra’s Oxford, and experience Philip Pullman’s incredible storytelling once again.

Every few pages I had I “oh my goodness!” moment where a twist was revealed or a connection made, I just wished I knew someone else who was reading it so I could talk about it!

This book was so exciting is was hard to put it down, but I’m so sad now that I’ve finished it and have to wait years for the next one - I need to know what happens next!!
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