Book Review: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 3, 2019
Source: Borrowed

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.

Okay, so here’s the thing. I loved His Dark Materials. I can’t say that I loved La Belle Sauvage, but the ending was good enough to pique my interest in the rest of the series. I waited (and then waited a little more for my hold to come in at the library) and unfortunately, I’m done with this series. I don’t say this often, but this book was a waste of my time.

Click through for spoilers.So, what was wrong with this book? Let’s see.

1. Men Writing Women. Pullman did a fine job of writing Lyra as a young girl. She was a great, strong character who was capable of doing anything that needed doing. As a grown woman, I don’t even know what to think. Everything in this book is sexualized. Lyra tries to determine whether or not she’s sexually attracted to various men. She thinks about how she’s only attracted to older men. Every man is attracted to her. There’s a weird scene where Pullman talks about how Alice, another female character, isn’t beautiful or attractive but has “an intense sexuality” and it’s just… so off-putting.
2. Lyra’s relationship (or lack thereof) with Pan. Listen, I cried when Lyra and Pan separated in the original trilogy. Now they hate each other, argue a lot, Pan runs away, and that’s the book. Sure, Lyra eventually realizes that she’s being really unreasonable and tries to find Pan, but this just seemed so out of character for the two of them. After everything they’ve been through, are they really going to let some petty disagreement over a book change their lives like that?
3. A random, completely unnecessary rape scene(?!). This was absolutely disgusting and honestly, came out of nowhere. It’s incredibly detailed and incredibly upsetting. I can’t even imagine how someone who’s experienced sexual assault would react to it. Even worse than the unnecessary detail is the fact that the scene serves no purpose other than to upset Lyra.
4. Malcolm’s weird attraction to Lyra. In general, age differences don’t really bother me. But Malcolm literally cared for Lyra when she was a baby. He was her teacher as she grew up, and he just casually mentions that he’s had a crush on her since her early teens. Is this going to be a thing now? I don’t want it.
5. Nothing actually happens. This book is nearly 800 pages and I can summarize it in a few sentences. Lyra and Pan are mad at each other so Pan runs away. Lyra gets over herself and decides to find him. There’s some stuff about a rose oil crisis and refugees thrown in for good measure, then it ends. We know no more at the end than we do at the beginning.

This wasn’t the worst thing that I’ve read, but it was way too long for the amount of plot we got and Pullman made a lot of questionable decisions, both plot-wise and character-wise. Two stars because it’s not like the actual writing’s bad, but this book was wholly unnecessary.


Previously: The Golden CompassThe Subtle KnifeThe Amber SpyglassLa Belle Sauvage


Have you read The Secret Commonwealth? What about any of Pullman’s other books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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21 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

  1. The Reading Hobbit says:

    Ahw man, I’m pretty disappointed with Pullman in general. I also loved HDM and while I also sort of enjoyed La Belle Sauvage I can’t say I’d want to read it again. And I definitely don’t want to read the new book especially after what I’ve heard about it + read your review. Great review by the way, really detailed 🙂 A random rape scene that serves no purpose whatsoever (makes you wonder why he thought it necessary to put it in let alone write it) is always a turn off for me!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Reading Hobbit says:

    (whoops, sent last comment too soon! ill try again) Maybe it’s some strange attempt to be a “serious” writer who writes dark, gritty (i.e. random rape scenes apparently) stuff not really suitable for children while still marketing it as YA (or his publisher does) bc thats where his fame and the money are? 🤷‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

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