Review of The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust #2 – Philip Pullman

Posted: February 18, 2020 in fantasy, mystery, Review, thriller
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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 almost ten 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.

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust #2

Philip Pullman

David Fickling Books and Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Pantalaimon witnesses a murder. The father of one of Lyra’s fellow students is going bankrupt due to a lack of quality rose oil. A web of intrigue connects these two seemingly random events with a shadowy religious order. And thus, begins The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Pullman’s The Book of Dust series. I want to say trilogy, but authors are tricky beasts.

The events of La Belle Sauvage are about 20 years in the past. But Oakley Street is still present, keeping a watchful eye on Lyra. So too is Malcolm Polstead, now a lecturer at Oxford, though at a different college to the one Lyra attends. Lyra and Pantalaimon have a difficult relationship, in part due to her forced abandonment of him in a previous adventure and also due to her reaction to a couple of books popular for their philosophy. So Pantalaimon sets off to find Lyra’s imagination. This event, early in the story, sets Lyra on a course both dangerous and lifesaving. The web of intrigue is closing around her. In her quest to find Pantalaimon she heads for the Blue Hotel, a legendary building said to be home to separated daemons. Where the plot takes an even bigger twist.

Pullman tells a deft tale. The Secret Commonwealth is at times a whodunnit, a spy-fi, a thriller and a bit of a travelogue through his alternate world. And at almost 700 pages there is plenty of plot and character development. Villains display elaborate backstories that make their motivations and actions sensible. I liked that Pullman retained his heroes from the previous volume and trilogy, as well as his gentle nod to events that happened in reality.

This is a great read, not only for the young adult market it supposedly is aimed at. Any fan of modern fantasy should have Pullman and this series on their shelves. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy. Nice one.

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