Overview (No Spoilers):
His Dark Materials trilogy will always hold a special place in my heart, especially when one of the my favorite quotes from the books was read at my wedding. Needless to say, when Pullman released La Belle Sauvage to continue this literary world seventeen years after The Amber Spyglass, I was so very excited to dive into this prequel. When La Belle Sauvage‘s follow up was released, I not only missed the October release date but also hadn’t realized it involved a major fast forward of the timeline. Whereas the first book of The Book of Dust series was a prequel to the events of His Dark Materials, The Secret Commonwealth was instead centered around a grown up Lyra and Pan. To be completely honest for the majority of this book I strongly disliked boring, serious adult Lyra. That being said, Pan was no angel as throughout this book as he lied and hid key pieces of information from Lyra, not to mention the still unfolding consequences of the big plot twist midway through the read. Due to voicing my annoyances with our favorite separated duo, I should add that Lyra and Pan did evolve as this read progressed, with glimmers of their old personalities shining through. Unfortunately, much of this book had already been finished before the material eased from feeling forced to bordering on attention gripping. While I usually lean bias in reviews toward detailed world building and character development, Pullman seemed almost to have lost his way early on in The Secret Commonwealth, with his heavy handed approach to making sure we understood the new personalities Pan and Lyra had grown into by dedicating approximately half of this read to accomplish this purpose. Lyra and Pan aside, I enjoyed the expanded cast of The Secret Commonwealth immensely as La Belle Sauvage was merged with the familiar figures from His Dark Materials. As so much time had elapsed between the first book of The Book of Dust series, not to mention ten or so years since the The Amber Spyglass, I felt as though I had missed out on the significance of several key reunions or references due to details of the aforementioned books being hazy at best. Overall, despite some growing pains with becoming reacclimated to a literary world I love and finding beloved main characters having matured into complete strangers Pullman eventually wove a tale that has me eager to find out how Pan and Lyra will continue to develop while overcoming their current predicaments.
Of Note: I’m a bit chagrined to make this confession but I wrote this review with (unknowingly) three hours left in the audiobook. I’m sure many of your are wondering how this is even possible and trust me, I’m right there with you. So let me give a bit of background. I read the majority of my books through the medium of my local library. The Secret Commonwealth‘s loan must have expired and instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t help, I moved on to the next title waiting for me, totally forgetting in the craziness of everything happening that I hadn’t even finished. Needless to say, I was surprised when the title unexpectedly showed up again in my inbox a week later. The final few hours of the read continued the upswing of momentum with regard to action and intrigue, but didn’t really change the heart of my review. I am indeed curious as to how this story will maintain its ever increasing pace while further developing our much loved characters.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- The scene (you know the one I mean) with Lyra and the soldiers was shocking and upsetting. Obviously the outcome took a turn for the better but it left both Lyra and the reader shaken, with a palpable sense of danger.
- When will Lyra and Pan find each other? Will Lyra feel betrayed that Pan is pretending to be someone else’s daemon?
- What would have Lyra and Pan have learned if they hadn’t been so stubborn and gone to see Makepeace?
- So many missing daemons! Will the Princess find hers? What about the little girl, Nur Huda, who Pan had befriended?
- I’m enjoying where this adventure is leading with regard to geography. Its not often that I find stories focusing on Syria.
- Will Lyra go to Lop Nor? What is the only significance of the rose oil that you can see Dust?
- Is this why the Magisterium is so obsessed with eliminating the strain of oil?
- Will Alice be ok in prison? How long will the good people of Jordan College support their obviously crooked new Dean?
- What was the significance of the old man on the train leaving Lyra his cards? Did Lyra really fool him into thinking she was a witch? Will there be repercussions from the witches if they find out she’s pretending to be one?
- Malcolm and Lyra love each other? That seems a bit extreme for barely interacting.
- How did Lyra lose the ability to read the alethiometer? Will she figure out the new way?
- Why is Marcel Delamare hunting Lyra? Does he have ill intentions because of his sister or want to bring her into the ‘family’? I’m personally guessing the former.
- Lyra’s adventure in Prague seemed so strange with the alchemist and I’m still struggling to understand the greater meaning. The alchemist separated his own son from his daemon, turning them into fire and water before allowing them to be destroyed for his own experiment? What was this experiment?
- Olivier Bonneville was positively disagreeable. Who exactly is the guide who stops Bonneville from killer her? What treasure can only she lead them to?
- What will Lyra find at the Blue Hotel? Why did Nur Huda greet her and not Pan?