Review of ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ by Philip Pullman

I had mixed feelings about the second volume of The Book of Dust. I liked it a lot better than the yawn-worthy La Belle Sauvage (sorry Mr Pullman) but it’s not in the same league as the fantastic His Dark Materials trilogy.

Lyra is twenty in this story and a student at Oxford University when she gets drawn into a quest involving daemons and at the same time the Magisterium are after her. There isn’t much I can say about the plot without spoilers but there’s a lot of travel involved, violent scenes involving religious fanatics and secret police, a folklore theme and a large cast of characters. Too many characters, I think, some of them introduced towards the end (which is something that I really dislike in a book). The other annoying thing was that information was repeated several times, as the main characters explained their quests to various others. I feel that the book could have been shorter and tighter, with the unnecessary bits removed. However, there were many moments I enjoyed and generally I wanted to keep on reading. Some very intriguing concepts were introduced, which I assume will be further explored in the next volume.

I found it difficult to connect with Lyra in this story, as she is somewhat changed (compared to in His Dark Materials) – not only has she lost her sparkiness, she is now very well-educated and even speaks semi-formally. I didn’t quite believe she was the same character. Finally, another problematic issue is the readership. The main characters are adults and there is a more adult tone to the book than La Belle Sauvage and its predecessors, with even some use of the f-word. I feel that it’s aimed at adult readers, maybe those who, like me, grew up reading the adventures of the young Lyra, which are well-known as ‘crossover’ books – categorised as YA but appreciated by adults too. Yet I feel that The Secret Commonwealth ought to be more accessible to younger readers. There is too much political intrigue and philosophising; had I read the book as a teen, I would have found it difficult.

In summary, this book was worth reading and I’m glad I did, but I’m not exactly blown away by the experience.

First published in 2019.

4 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ by Philip Pullman”

  1. Great honest review. Sounds like a good book. Reminds me of one I read recently where it was good but could have been improved with some editing.

    1. Thanks 🙂 It is good, just could have been better. Sometimes I think in the case of very high profile successful authors, no one seems to mind about the editing or if the book is too long, they know people will buy it whatever. Thanks for stopping by 😀

  2. I gave up after La Belle Sauvage. Somehow, I don’t like my enjoyment of the first books to be tainted by a negative experience of later books. Perhaps a bit silly, but there you go…

    1. I don’t blame you for not wanting to carry on with the trilogy, they’re not as good as HDM.

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