Philip Pullman’s THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH (The Book of Dust: Volume 2)
Updated: Nov 3, 2019
I absolutely loved this book. It is heartbreakingly brilliant. La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in The Book of Dust trilogy, was a prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy set ten years before Northern Lights when Lyra Belacqua was a baby and focused on eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead. The Secret Commonwealth is set 10 years after The Amber Spyglass and works perfectly as both a sequel to La Belle Sauvage and a direct sequel to His Dark Materials. Lyra Silvertongue is now in her early twenties; Malcolm is twenty years older and the consequences of all the previous books are set to converge in an absolute epic of fantasy fiction. This is one of those books that is so immersive, so intense that you literally have to snap yourself out of it to return to the real world. And then all you want to do is go back.
The original His Dark Materials trilogy dealt with a number of issues; including organised religion, parallel universes, authoritarian regimes, freedom and the journey from childhood to adulthood. It was a series that not only encompassed an alternate world and an epic journey of discovery and adventure but was packed full of philosophical and metaphysical ideas unlike anything else in children’s literature. With The Secret Commonwealth Philip Pullman takes this another step further. Inspired by what has been happening in the world in the twenty years since he completed His Dark Materials trilogy, he takes the issues of today’s world and examines them in the context of Lyra’s world. Authoritarian power is searching for new heights in its power, influence and control of both, whilst in the shadows there is a brutal crackdown on anything that might expose or disrupt it’s plans. Oppression is spreading everywhere and this in turn is seeing a rapid increase in refugees who are fleeing their homes where this oppression is at its most brutal and violent. And there is a battle of ideas. The status quo is being challenged from different quarters, and some of these ideas may be even more dangerous than the ones they are arguing against.
Once again Lyra becomes a central figure in this unseen battle. However Lyra is no longer a child. She is now a student at the college which once gave her shelter and asylum. She is being heavily influenced by all the different ideas that float in and around the college halls and lectures as well as in the books she reads. Some of these ideas her daemon, Pantalaimon, doesn’t like as he sees a change in Lyra he doesn’t understand or recognise. As events are put in motion Lyra’s safety is threatened and when the unthinkable happens Lyra must set out once again on an epic adventure, this time Eastwards and this time alone, to find out what is really going on and why The Magisterium are so desperate to keep it secret.
In The Book of Dust we get a greater look at The Magisterium’s global power and influence. Over who they exhort this power and influence, how they use this power and influence and then how that power and influence is controlled and influenced from within. The world did not fall apart after the final events of The Amber Spyglass. In fact The Magisterium is even more determined to keep control. Knowledge is power and The Magisterium will stop and nothing to control and suppress that knowledge wherever it emanates from. The are other consequences from The Amber Spyglass which are also playing out but those I will leave for you to discover yourself.
One of my favourite parts of the new book is the subtle dig at pseudo-philosophers whose books spout very inward facing, self-absorbed doctrines à la. Jordan Peterson. Philip Pullman is the best!
I raced through this 700 page epic and am now desperate for the final volume in this trilogy which has taken His Dark Materials to new heights. Philip Pullman does a masterful job of reconnecting the reader to his world and reintroducing us to Lyra. Not only is this another epic adventure packed full of ideas to digest and dissect but it is also a deeply emotional book. We get to know Malcolm a bit more but it is Lyra who once again steals your heart. There were times I wanted to call out to her through the pages and other times give her comfort. Lyra’s emotional journey is even more intense in this book than in His Dark Materials which makes me even more desperate to find out what happens next. In the meantime there is the new BBC/HBO series starting in November which looks amazing and will hopefully make us all forget The Golden Compass movie never existed. But I have have to reread the books just so I can re-enter this world and all it contains and encompasses.
Title: The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two
Author: Phillip Pullman
Publisher: Penguin UK
Publication Date: 03/10/2019