The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth
In the second volume of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust trilogy – the follow-up to the multi-award winning His Dark Materials – Lyra is now a young woman. Her relationship with her daemon, Pantalaimon, has deteriorated; partly due to the effects of their separation in His Dark Materials, but now exacerbated by Pan’s ire at her perceived loss of imagination and her increasing reverence with the intellectual ‘reasonists’ of the day.
This relationship breakdown (coupled with global events involving, among others, the resurgent Magisterium) is the catalyst for another epic struggle involving one of the best-loved heroines of children’s and young adult fiction.
The book is another tour de force from Pullman. His world-building, whilst absolutely unique, still has many resonances with our own current global and existential predicaments. Religion, science, politics, economics and philosophy are very much woven into the fabric of the story. Democracy versus authoritarianism is a major and thought-provoking theme.
A criticism would be the almost excessive amount of exposition required in the first half of the book (excepting the first chapter which really pulls the reader in very quickly, and a later amazing assassination scene which will live long in the memory) in order to set the framework for the various strands to move forward. The second half has much more narrative pace, suspense and excitement. In addition, the fractious relationship between Lyra and Pan felt a bit forced and, dare I say it, somewhat kludgy. Beware that this is a more grown-up read than the original trilogy, due mainly to a graphic and almost visceral attempted rape scene.