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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
1,0633814,161 (4.04)56
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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» See also 56 mentions

English (37)  Dutch (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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 |
This book was long. Literally, at 633 pages, but it also felt long to read. It was very slow for pretty much the entire book, with a few faster-paced scenes here and there, but mostly, this book felt like a set-up. It was a bit annoying since it's the middle book in a series and the second was very action-packed and faster-paced, but this book has to bridge that first one and the His Dark Mayerials trilogy. So it took a more informative, slow build route. It wouldn't have been a problem if the book was over 600 pages long and took about five hundred to get really interesting. I guess one could argue something about the pacing being a representation of Lyra's awareness or something similar to those lines as she was very passive in the beginning. However, it didn't make the read any better while I was reading. I can't wait for the third book though and that's really my only criticism.

I loved getting Lyra back. I could practically hear her talking through her speech pattern in Dakota Blue Richard's voice. It's really nice to have her back. And Pan and all of them. I do love how the author tied the two works together. ( )
  afrozenbookparadise | Apr 22, 2021 |
After a slow burn in book 1 I was happy to get thrown into a lot of intrigue intertwined with some present social concerns in a way that felt authentic. I'm excited to get to book 3.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 9, 2021 |
I was really happy when it was announced that Philip Pullman was returning to the alternate universe of His Dark Materials with the Book of Dust, and even more pleased that the first book in this new series filled in some crucial parts of Lyra's backstory, but this second book is an even more triumphant return. We are now 20 or so years in the future from the events in the Book of Dust (10 years from where the Amber Spyglass leaves off), and get to see Lyra as a young college student return to her inadvertant war with the Magisterium. The main story focuses on Lyra and Pan's relationship, exploring the effects of their separation during the events in the world of the dead, and Lyra's struggle with her natural instincts towards believing in magic (aka the Secret Commonwealth). It seems that not all education has a positive effect, as in Lyra's case her studies and the predominant trend in literature has urged her to believe in reality and reality alone - which is completely at odds with the magical events that she has experienced during her many travels, even though they are no less real. This seems at first to be a bit of an odd dissonance in the story, but the point Pullman is trying to make, I think, is that young minds are constantly evolving, and their lack of experience and willingness to follow the crowd for accepatance's sake can easily over-rule any sort of logical intuition. In Lyra's case, this fundamental disbelief causes such a rift between herself and Pan (ironically, he's more logical and thoughtful than she is in some cases) that he leaves her entirely on a mad-cap quest to help her regain her imagination. Lyra is also forced to set off from her home base in Oxford, as the Magisterium begins to take too active a hand in her life in Oxford. These events which hinge on the travelling exploration adventure directly mirror the style that captivated readers in the Golden Compass/the Northern Lights, so I'm sure I'm not the only reader who was enthralled very quickly by this story.

On a different note, the background narrative surrounds the Magisterium and religion in this book much more heavily than we saw in the original series. Pullman is obviously writing for many of the readers who grew up reading the original series, who are now ready for a more adult narrative and want a more indepth look at the politics that were in the background of the events previously. This not only deepens the story considerably, but it also showcases the strength that the original stories were built on - if one knew how to read them, they were far more than simple fantasy adventure stories, and Pullman is deftly demonstrated that he can interweave thematic complexity without sacrificing the adventure, characters, and narrative that keeps us turning the pages. Unfortunately, readers are left on the edges of their seats with the final scene, as Lyra and Pan are on the verge of being reunited, but we get absolutely no closure whatsoever. Well played, Pullman, well played; now we'll all be pre-ordering the next book to make sure that we find out what happens next asap!!! ( )
  JaimieRiella | Feb 25, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (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, PhilipAuthorprimary 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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