I leapt at the chance to review The Secret Commonwealth when it was offered to me, as I am a huge fan of both the His Dark Materials trilogy and the new Book of Dust trilogy.
I feel that before I start this review, I should sound a note of caution. While you can read this book on its own, it will make much more sense and you will get far more out of it if you have read both the His Dark Materials trilogy and the first volume of the Book of Dust, La Belle Sauvage, ideally reading La Belle Sauvage and then His Dark Materials.
Although The Secret Commonwealth is the second in the Book of Dust trilogy, it is set some twenty years after La Belle Sauvage, with the new series around His Dark Materials seamlessly. Lyra is now 20 and a student at St Sophia’s College in Oxford when her daemon Pantalaimon witnesses a murder. On the run and in hiding from the CCD and Magisterium, both of whom seem to have lost none of their power and influence, they find themselves drawn into the mysterious world of Oakley Street and seeking help from friends old and new. I don’t want to say too much more about the plot for fear of unintentionally spoiling it for anyone not familiar with either His Dark Materials or The Book of Dust!
It is a long book at nearly 700 pages but the pace, drama and tension means it fairly rattles along and I couldn’t put it down. It’s good to catch up with friends old and new, and to see how Pullman introduces and develops new characters who may or may not be linked to other characters from the past. I also enjoyed his subtle references to past incidents - it never felt like old ground was being retrodden.
Although the world of The Secret Commonwealth is different to ours with its zeppelins and daemons, Pullman is not afraid to address issues we see in the world around us, as he touches upon the refugee crisis, global poverty, terrorism and extremism and the environmental crisis over the course of the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Lyra and Pan again, and I also enjoyed getting to see an adult Malcolm, who was introduced in La Belle Sauvage. By the time I read the acknowledgements, I was emotionally undone and in floods of tears. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy to be published. In the meantime, I will have to re-listen to all the books so far (the two latest peerlessly read by Michael Sheen), obsessively watch His Dark Materials on TV and listen to the soundtrack on hard rotation.