The Secret Commonwealth ★★★★½

The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth
Philip Pullman

Genre(s) | Fantasy, Young Adult
Goodreads Rating | 4.32
Humpo Show Rating | 4.5
Published: 2019
Publisher: Penguin and David Fickling Books

The Secret Commonwealth review

Several years after the events in The Amber Spyglass, and twenty years after what happened in La Belle Sauvage, Pullman has crafted another fascinating story about Lyra, Dust and the magical elements of the world that she inhabits. The Secret Commonwealth is the second installment in the second trilogy called The Book of Dust, and it follows a twenty-year-old Lyra, Patalaimon and Malcolm as they embark on their separate journeys that take them from Oxford to Asia. At the heart of their journeys and all the other events is…roses.

When Pullman brought out La Belle Sauvage in 2017 – although enjoyable – I wasn’t blown away like I was with his Dark Materials trilogy. But with The Secret Commonwealth, he has produced something that I struggled to put down – and it wasn’t due to the size of it! Pullman’s brilliant storytelling is on full display once again as he creates a novel that canters forward, which is full of surprise and imagination, as well as having characters that find themselves in situations fraught with danger. His ability to sketch characters, settings and motives quickly is unmatched. The story, Pullman’s writing and the underlying themes immediately drew me in, and my interest never wavered for the nigh on 700 pages.

It all begins with a murder. And a mystery. Pan, Lyra’s daemon who is able to separate from her, witnesses a murder and as the man slowly dies he entrusts Pan with a warning and a wallet. This exchange has knock on effects that sees so much happen and change throughout the following weeks in countless countries.

The mystery concerns roses. The forces of evil – the Magisterium, a clerical and theological organization – are intent on destroying all trace of roses, its essence and the trade of all related products as it tries to assert itself, its beliefs and authority over everyone regarding this matter. As we gather in snippets here and there, like crumbs left by Pullman, we begin to see that roses and rose oil have potentially wide-ranging effects to the Magisterium, for good and bad.

Like he did in the original trilogy, where Pullman spun a fascinating tug-of-war in relation to the human struggle for free will and knowledge,  he does the same again this time, spinning a yarn that includes the battle between reason, emotion, logic and imagination. It is a fascinating read and I was completely engrossed with every chapter. I can’t give high enough praise for the easy flow of Pullman’s writing and the themes he includes and explores, such as what we see in our current political and social world – we have refugees arriving in Southern Europe and Asia from countries running from war and strife by boat. Sound familiar?

One drawback I had was the plethora of coincidences. Wherever Lyra went, she would meet someone or witness something connected with her quest/predicament. Or maybe I have read too much Gottfried Brande?!

The Secret Commonwealth is a wonderful read and the cliffhanger that it is left on has me aching to read the concluding installment to this Book of Dust series. A world-class finish from a world-class writer!

The Humpo Show | Richard

5 thoughts on “The Secret Commonwealth ★★★★½

  1. Nice review! I am about to begin my reread of His Dark Material and hope to pick this up soon. Can’t wait to see the TV show!

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