The Secret Commonwealth

By Philip Pullman

The Short Take:

This second book in Pullman’s The Book of Dust trilogy is packed full of unhappy people, schemers, and lots of uncertainty. It ends with a cliffhanger that has you begging for the final volume.

Why?

In his first book of this new series Pullman went back in time, presenting Lyra (the heroic protagonist of the earlier His Dark Materials trilogy) as an infant. This book jumps ahead nearly 20 years. But, unlike with the last book, you really should read the first trilogy Pullman wrote in order to fully understand this book.

Only then will you realize the scope of the tragedy that has befallen Lyra and her daemon, Pan: they can’t stand each other. Pullman’s universe has some similarities to our, for example, Oxford, England is still a center of learning. However, in his created world every human is linked to an external animal that is a physical manifestation of their inner self. Imagine how terrible it might be to be at war with yourself. That’s where Lyra and Pan find themselves.

At the same time, the same oppressive forces Lyra faced at age 12 have returned and are seeking her with bad intentions. The book also includes parallels to current events, with thousands of refuges traveling to Europe and hints of totalitarianism.

The book has heft at 600+ pages, but it moves at a lightening pace which makes it hard to set aside. You’ll finish fast and then bemoan the fact that book three is not already in print.

A Little Plot:

Attending college in Oxford, Lyra constantly fights with her daemon, Pan. The fighting doesn’t abate even when she discovers she is penniless and forces are aligned against her. It only gets worse, to the point that Pan leaves her completely. Now she must find him plus learn why people are after her.

For more about Philip Pullman and his books, click here.

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