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The Secret Commonwealth

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
Hardcover, paperback, Kindle and audiobook formats

I listened to this book in the unabridged audiobook format, which was well read and produced.
This is the second of the ‘Book of Dust’ series, which is a sequel to the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. The first ‘Book of Dust’ – ‘La Belle Sauvage’ – features Lyra Silvertongue, the principal character of all the books, as a baby.
In ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ Lyra is twenty years old, and a student at Oxford. She has a difficult relationship with her daemon, Pantalaimon. Pantalaimon witnesses the murder of a scholar at a riverside, which leads to the duo obtaining the dead man’s rucksack and notebooks. This leads to Lyra and friends starting to investigate a complex mystery involving roses, rose-oil, a fanatical far eastern sect, and Dust. The Magisterium, a repressive religious organisation, also features in the book, appearing remarkably resilient considering the events in the previous trilogy. Pan leaves Lyra and goes off on a quest of his own (the ability of some humans and daemons to separate is an important part of the story). The story develops into an eastward quest with Lyra and Pan separately pursued by Marcel Delamare, an official in the Magisterium, and Olivier Bonneville, son of a man who featured in ‘La Belle Sauvage’.
I found the story gripping, and liked it more that ‘La Belle Sauvage’ which I thought was a somewhat unnecessary book. The numerous exotic settings are well realised, and the dramatic turns of the plot hold one’s attention. Readers may be conscious of echoes of contemporary trends in our own world. There are no principal characters under the age of twenty, so I am not sure how well TSC will be received by readers expecting a book for young people. With its violent events and philosophical references, it seems aimed more at an adult audience. ‘TSC’ is a long book, over 700 pages, but the story is not resolved in it. Unlike the previous volume, it ends on a cliff-hanger.
Some reference is made to events in ‘His Dark Materials’ and ‘La Belle Sauvage’ but it is not essential to be overly familiar with either.

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