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The Secret Commonwealth

by Philip Pullman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Book of Dust (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1134013,451 (4.05)57
The #1 New York Times Bestseller! Return to the world of His Dark Materials--now an HBO original series starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda--in the second volume of Philip Pullman's new bestselling masterwork The Book of Dust.   The windows between the many worlds have been sealed and the momentous adventures of Lyra Silvertongue's youth are long behind her--or so she thought. Lyra is now a twenty-year-old undergraduate at St. Sophia's College and intrigue is swirling around her once more. Her daemon Pantalaimon is witness to a brutal murder, and the dying man entrusts them with secrets that carry echoes from their past.   The more Lyra is drawn into these mysteries, the less she is sure of. Even the events of her own past come into question when she learns of Malcolm Polstead's role in bringing her to Jordan College.   Now Lyra and Malcolm will travel far beyond the confines of Oxford, across Europe and into the Levant, searching for a city haunted by daemons, and a desert said to hold the truth of Dust. The dangers they face will challenge everything they thought they knew about the world, and about themselves.   Praise for The Book of Dust "It's a stunning achievement, this universe Pullman has created and continues to build on." --The New York Times   "Pullman's writing is simple, unpretentious, beautiful, true. The conclusion to The Book of Dust can't come soon enough."--The Washington Post… (more)
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English (39)  Dutch (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Very long, considering it's just one third of the story; on the other hand, I didn't mind.

A quote about "bullshitting" seemed very apt to our current world:
"...Mr. Scoresby ... told me there were truth tellers, and they needed to know what the truth was, so as to tell it. And there were liars, and they needed to know what the truth was, so they could change it or avoid it. And there were bullshitters, who didn't care about the truth at all. They weren't interested. What they spoke wasn't the truth and it wasn't lies; it was bullshit. All they were interested in was their own performance." [p. 276]

,.. as does this quote about how to maintain control when new things are discovered:
"... we should delicately and subtly undermine the idea that truth and facts are possible in the first place. Once the people have become doubtful about the truth of anything, all kinds of things will be open to us." [p. 297] ( )
  raizel | Jul 21, 2021 |
20 years after being delivered to Jordan College and nearly a decade after she left Will, Lyra is a student at St. Sophia's College in Oxford when she is drawn back into intrigue involving the Magisterium.

Lyra's world and her story have grown with her. This is not the fantastical world of His Dark Materials: there are no armored bears, no rollerskating elephants. It's set in Lyra's parallel world, and while the stakes are high, they are--so far--earthly. Lyra is fighting on two fronts: one against palace intrigue in the Magisterium that threatens her, and on a personal level. Following their forced separation and now Lyra's discovery of hyper-rationalist philosophy, her daemon Pantalaimon has left her and she has to journey alone to the Middle East.

The tone is darker and more adult, and Pullman isn't shy about pulling in more mature themes involving not just the Church but government repression and the plight of refugees. Lyra faces adult dangers, too, including sexual assault. HDM was well known for its atheism, but Pullman takes a slightly different--and interesting--tack here (though the Magisterium continues to be a malignant power, and there's also veiled attacks on extremist Islam). Instead of religion, his target is extreme rationalism, the idea that all that there is is what we can see and experience directly. Pan believes that Lyra's reading has robbed her of her imagination.

While I liked La Belle Sauvage well enough, it didn't reach the heights of the original trilogy for me. The Secret Commonwealth takes it to a higher level by raising the stakes and maintaining two searches for Lyra--for the rose oil that the Magisterium wants, and more importantly for herself. ( )
  arosoff | Jul 11, 2021 |
I think when he was writing The Secret Commonwealth, Philip Pullman just really wanted all the fans of His Dark Materials to shut up and stop asking what happened to Lyra next. After teasing longtime fans and readers with La Belle Sauvage, finally a book about Lyra Silvertongue is announced and the story we get is self-important and depressing. If you’re a fan of The Golden Compass and you haven’t read the gigantic tomes in the decades-later follow-up series yet… well, you’re welcome. I’ve done it for you so you don’t have to suffer.

First of all, the plot was… boring, I guess? There were a few different storylines running simultaneously through different POVs and I personally did not find any of them interesting. In fact, I’m a bit perplexed as to what kind of story Pullman wanted to tell, and further confused as to why it’s all Lyra’s story again. It’s almost as though both La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth were worldbuilding notes that Pullman had about Oxford and its world… but he wanted to loop in Lyra because he wanted to draw the readers of His Dark Materials into his new series. Realistically, I believe both the novels in The Book of Dust would be better served in the same world of His Dark Materials but following different characters.

Pantelimon is absolutely correct in saying Lyra has lost her imagination. As a character, she seems to have lost more than that. I understand that the character has grown up, but she feels like an entirely different character than the one we left in The Amber Spyglass. She has lost her curiosity and interest in the world. She’s lost her drive and optimism. Her entire journey in His Dark Materials did not take this from her, but going to school has. This, in particular, made me feel like the story should have belonged to a different character.

There were a couple aspects that made me a bit uncomfortable, writing-wise. There are scenes regarding homosexuality that I don’t feel Pullman was classified to write, and frankly, made me cringe a bit with the way he spoke about it. It’s one of those things that, in reading, it feels more like he was expressing his own (problematic) understanding of the LGBTQIAP+ community. From a social perspective, I hated that he said one could learn to love a woman after a while. From a worldbuilding perspective, it seemed like he went against how he explained daemons in his world earlier. There were also scenes where Lyra was wearing a niqāb, and Pullman was not subtle in how he wrote Lyra behavior felt like a judgment on the logic of niqābs and hijabs and I just… didn’t… like it. Finally, there is an attempte rape scenes that, again, I don’t feel Pullman was qualified to write. I dunno. Maybe I’m being overly critical. Maybe I’m reading into something that isn’t there. Either way, I didn’t like it. If he consulted outside sources or had sensitivity readers or any of that, it certainly isn’t references in the Author’s Note.

The story doesn’t become interesting until the last half hour of the twenty hour audiobook. Most the story is a journey, but Pullman seems to have lost his skill at making that journey interesting without making it vulgar. I just… don’t think I’m compelled enough to read the final book because both of the previous two have been far too long and went little to nowhere. I’m just not invested enough in the story to waste more hours of my life seeing the ending.

I love, I love His Dark Materials. But I can’t in good conscious recommend either La Belle Sauvage or The Secret Commonwealth. I was hoping the series was going to get better, but it hasn’t. If you have fond memories of His Dark Materials, I’m inclined to recommend avoiding this one as not to tarnish what you know of Lyra. Enjoy her adventure, you don’t need to know what happens next. Your time is more valuable than that. ( )
  Morteana | Jun 20, 2021 |
The main problem with this novel is that Pullman loses control of the number of characters. There are waaaaay too many, such that by the time I was 2/3 done I wished I’d started a list that I could refer to later. If I were being generous to Pullman I’d suspect that he was trying to model it on those old noir-ish detective movies that are kind of episodic, in which the P.I. travels around interviewing a bunch of suspects and getting their stories before Marcellus Wallace’s wife ODs on heroin finally IDing the guilty party.

The plot is rather slow and inconclusive. There is a certain amount of action, actually, but it often fails to advance the story. The novel ends on a cliff-hanger, though these days I guess one should expect that in the second book of a trilogy.

One thing I liked was the critique of post-modern “intellectualism.” We need more critiques of pomo from “classical” leftists like Pullman. For readers not familiar with the set-up: In Pullman’s fictional universe, every human has a “daemon” that is basically an external soul. Each person’s daemon takes the form of an animal. Daemons can act in the world, e.g. carry small objects. But an academic named Talbot has actually written an essay arguing that “Daemons don’t exist” in a brazen act of absurdity. It would be like arguing “legs don’t exist” in our world. But his prose is described as so oblique, mercurial, and witty that he can suck people in and get them half believing this (and other nonsense that he writes). Arguing with Talbot’s writing is like trying to shoot fog, or nail jello to a wall. In other words, he’s a pomo “intellectual,” and he is portrayed, forthrightly, as a charlatan. Thank you Mr. Pullman.

There’s another influential writer in this fictional universe, a novelist named Brande who has written a novel set in a world with the bizarre feature that... there are no daemons! This is a pretty shocking premise in the world of The Secret Commonwealth. Brande is, or tries to portray himself as, ruthlessly empiricist and literal-minded. One of the nice things about this is that Lyra remarks that Talbot and Brande are opposites, and her daemon corrects her, saying they are two sides of the same coin. Both are trying, in different ways, not to see things that are right in front of their faces 24/7/365. Brande also has his fictional hero kill God because “It’s not rational that such a being should exist,” which is an absurd use of the concept of rationality.

Thus Talbot and Brande might seem like opposites because Talbot explicitly claims that there’s no such thing as truth, while Brande is purportedly devoted to rationality, which should mean carefully seeking truth. But no, they are not really opposites. For me this aspect of The Secret Commonwealth, including conversations that good guys have with each of these two charlatans, was the best part.

Other notes:

As Stevil2001 writes in his review, "Way too many times was she (Lyra) bailed out of a situation not by her own cleverness, but because someone happened to notice her and take pity on her and help her out. What happened to the clever Lyra Silvertongue?" Spot on. The Lyra Silvertongue we know from His Dark Materials *got that name* because she could bullshit her way out of any trouble. She was the only human being ever to successfully deceive a talking bear. Where did that Lyra go?

The action is reasonably plentiful, but as noted above often fails to advance the plot. E.g. at one point near the end of the novel, Lyra is almost gang-raped on a train and there’s a fight scene, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the plot; it’s just sort of there.

When I was about 90% done with TSC I put it down for several weeks because keeping up with all the characters was tiring. Once I just gave up on trying to remember who was who, I got through the last 10% fairly quickly. ( )
  Carnophile | May 23, 2021 |
Terribly disappointing. It gets a second star because it started strong: we're back in Oxford with Lyra and Pan, she now a young woman reading and studying with the scholars of St Sophia's. But things are not the same... Lyra has apparently lost her native gift for reading the alethiometer. The Magisterium is gathering its power into a single, ominpotent council. But most unsettling of all, people and their daemons are drifting apart. Some pairs have learned to "separate," and their relationships are fraying. Lyra and Pan are quarrelling, moping, irritated with each other, and Pan rambles off on his own night after night. (After reading this far, I was upset when my beloved dog Theo decided not to come back to bed with me after breakfast one morning...) And then... the book starts to fall apart. There are spies, murders, a mysterious and contested source of oil somewhere in the Middle East (rose, not crude, but the parallel is clumsy and obvious), a refugee crisis... Lyra somehow dreams of or knows of the source of this oil (needed for the fingerbowls of the scholars... really??) and sets out to find it, for reasons not clear to her or the reader. Malcolm Polstead (of La Belle Sauvage - now a thirty-one year old professor of history and hopelessly in love with Lyra) sets off on his own mission. They have a network of sympathetic people who might aid them, but instead seem to randomly run into strangers who inexplicably offer food, shelter, aid... why? Wait, who was guy again? Then there's a novel and another book thought to be subversive which have stolen Lyra's imagination... oh yeah, the gyptians! In the marshes on their boats amid the "second commonwealth" of the title, peopled by fairies, trolls, will o the wisps, jacky lanterns, et al. Some of it is lovely, some of it is charming, and a lot of it is... boring. The plot relies on excessive coincidences, long talky infodumps, and Lyra pining for Will Parry. And Pan has left her altogether. Not sure I blame him. There is no doughty Iorek, no gallant and colorful Lee Scoresby, no deliciously nasty Mrs Coulter, no cryptic and dubious Lord Asriel, no haunting Cittagazze, or underworld with its sad, angry harpies - dazzling, difficult, and interesting characters and places that engaged us. Very, very sadly, I set the book back on the return-to-the-library pile.

Pullman didn't need to write these books. He wrote a wondrous, magical trilogy with a sly and erudite message, wonderful characters and splendid tropes and concepts. Perhaps he should have been content with that. ( )
1 vote JulieStielstra | May 17, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
The Secret Commonwealth is a book whose political signification is much closer to the surface than in earlier work: both the refugee crisis and the current state of democracy are repeatedly referenced. There's something really interesting going on here: by interjecting familiar real-world concerns into a well-loved fiction universe, Pullman gives them added urgency, powerful resonance. A scene in which a ferry capsizes a boat of refugees is almost unreadably tragic; doubly so when we see it through the eyes of Lyra, with whom many of us have grown up. [...]

It's darker and more dangerous than much YA fiction, but there was nothing here that my 11-year-old couldn't handle – indeed he raced through it quicker than I did; loved it, if possible, even more. [...] That Pullman is our best children's author is clear; The Secret Commonwealth establishes him as one of our greatest writers, full stop.
added by Cynfelyn | editThe Guardian, Alex Preston (Oct 20, 2019)
 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pullman, Philipprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sheen, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wormell, ChristopherIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wormell, ChristopherCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Every thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth. —William Blake
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To Nick Messenger, fine poet and indomitable friend
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Pantalaimon, the dæmon of Lyra Belacqua, now called Lyra Silvertongue, lay along the windowsill of Lyra's little study-bedroom in St. Sophia's College in a state far from thought as he could get.
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Everything possible to be believ'd is an image of truth

- William Blake
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The #1 New York Times Bestseller! Return to the world of His Dark Materials--now an HBO original series starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda--in the second volume of Philip Pullman's new bestselling masterwork The Book of Dust.   The windows between the many worlds have been sealed and the momentous adventures of Lyra Silvertongue's youth are long behind her--or so she thought. Lyra is now a twenty-year-old undergraduate at St. Sophia's College and intrigue is swirling around her once more. Her daemon Pantalaimon is witness to a brutal murder, and the dying man entrusts them with secrets that carry echoes from their past.   The more Lyra is drawn into these mysteries, the less she is sure of. Even the events of her own past come into question when she learns of Malcolm Polstead's role in bringing her to Jordan College.   Now Lyra and Malcolm will travel far beyond the confines of Oxford, across Europe and into the Levant, searching for a city haunted by daemons, and a desert said to hold the truth of Dust. The dangers they face will challenge everything they thought they knew about the world, and about themselves.   Praise for The Book of Dust "It's a stunning achievement, this universe Pullman has created and continues to build on." --The New York Times   "Pullman's writing is simple, unpretentious, beautiful, true. The conclusion to The Book of Dust can't come soon enough."--The Washington Post

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