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.
The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers.
Staff Review by Sarah McDuling
Well it’s official. The Secret Commonwealth is my new favourite Philip Pullman book.
The His Dark Materials trilogy is one of my all time childhood favourites. I didn’t think anything could beat the bittersweet perfection of The Amber Spyglass. Then, so many years after the conclusion of His Dark Materials, along came La Belle Sauvage – the world’s most perfect prequel (that’s right, I’m calling it!). And now The Secret Commonwealth is here and believe me when I say, Philip Pullman has outdone himself!
In The Secret Commonwealth, we are reunited with Lyra Belacqua (aka Lyra Silvertongue) who has grown into a young woman alongside her daemon, Pantalaimon. Distressingly, a distance has grown between Lyra and Pan – they are no longer as closely connected as they once were and neither of them quite understands why. We are also reunited with Malcolm, the young hero of La Belle Sauvage. It has been twenty years since we last saw Malcolm and seven since we last saw Lyra. Time has changed both these beloved characters – they are the same, yet different – they have left childhood behind. And though they are each launched into exactly the kind of high stakes adventure that readers have come to expect from Philip Pullman, the themes and tone of The Secret Commonwealth are a little darker and more adult than previous books in the series.
Sometimes we forget why we loved the things we loved as children. We grow up and remember our childhood passions fondly – perhaps we even revisit them – but the things that seemed so magical to us in childhood seldom hold the same power over our adult imaginations.
For me, there are only a few notable exceptions to this rule and Philip Pullman is one of them. No matter how many times I read his books, they always completely capture my imagination and leave me feeling as though I’ve learned something new. His words have a way of creeping into the soul and becoming words to live by. And there are so many words to live by in The Secret Commonwealth, I had to restrain myself from taking a highlighter to the page!
The true genius of The Secret Commonwealth is that it manages to improve upon the story that came before – answering questions I never even noticed had been left open – while also challenging parts of the story I thought were set in stone. There is no solid ground, and it’s as exhilarating as it is unsettling!
At almost 700 pages, The Secret Commonwealth is not a quick read, nor a particularly light one. It is, however, a powerful, soul-stirring and thought-provoking story packed full of adventure, mystery and suspense. Not only a worthy sequel to La Belle Sauvage and a brilliant continuation of His Dark Materials, this masterpiece of storytelling is a fierce ode to the power of the imagination and a must read for fans. The only problem is that when you finish it, you’ll be in agony waiting for the final book in the trilogy to arrive and complete the story! Luckily we have the HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials on the horizon to help distract us from the pain.
And in the meantime, I strongly urge anyone who hasn’t yet read these books to pick up a copy of Northern Lights as quickly as possible and buckle up for an epic ride.
[Pullman] has created a fantasy world, made yet more satisfying in rigour and stylistic elegance. This is a book for getting older with * Guardian, Book of the Week *
The Secret Commonwealth is ablaze with light and life. The writing is exquisite; every sentence sings ... To read Pullman is to experience the world refreshed, aglow, in Technicolour * Independent *
Pullman's story is still thought-provoking ... This book elegantly weaves in live issues, from Europe's refugee crisis to facts in the post-truth era. And Pullman's prose is rewarding as ever * The Times *
A long, taxing, complex journey, laced with beauty, terror and philosophy * Metro *
As ever, Pullman's story is complex and vast but home to some of the finest storytelling in the 21st century. Revel in whole new worlds and enjoy one of literature's most wonderful heroines before she comes to HBO and the BBC * Stylist.co.uk *
Pullman is confronting readers with the horrors of our own world reflected back at us. In The Secret Commonwealth he creates a fearful symmetry * The Herald *
REVIEWS FOR LA BELLE SAUVAGE: THE BOOK OF DUST VOLUME ONE:
Fans of His Dark Materials will find themselves joyfully immersed in a familiar world . . . meanwhile, awaiting first-time readers is all the pleasure of commencing their own journey into this most captivating of universes at the very beginning of Lyra's story
* Independent *
No one else writes like Pullman . . . entirely worth the 17-year wait * Imogen Russell Williams, Metro *
A rich, imaginative, vividly characterised rite-of-passage tale * Nicolette Jones, The Sunday Times *
High-octane adventure accompanies ingenious plotting * The Times *