Review: The Book of Dust, Vol. 2 – The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

9780241373347In this sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy and La Belle Sauvage, Lyra Silvertongue is a disenfranchised college student, seduced by the writings of a popular author, whose toxic ideas — including one that proposes daemons are mere illusions — have formed a wedge between Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. Pan believes Lyra’s imagination has been stolen — a fate worse than death, leaving her hollow, lacking the spark and tenacity that bolstered them throughout their various escapades — and so sets off to find it. Which propels Lyra on a journey to locate Pan. And Malcolm Polstead (from La Belle Sauvage) to track Lyra. 

If this sounds like a lot, just wait, there’s more. Under the guidance of its sinister new leader, the authoritarian church The Magesterium is beginning to extend its powers. Meanwhile, terrorists are destroying rose crops in the name of an ambiguous Holy Purpose. The whole world is mired in a state of hyper-discontent. The parallels to our own aren’t nuanced or oblique; Philip Pullman seems determined to make the similarities as opaque as possible. Like it’s his mission to state: you think this world is fucked up? Look outside your window.

The Secret Commonwealth is wonderfully ambitious in scope and energy. Pullman’s world is sublimely imagined. It hardly matters that after more than 700 pages we’re left with more questions than answers. We know he’s more than capable of sticking the landing. It’s the long wait until the third instalment that’s the killer.

Author: Phillip Pullman
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 9780241373347
Ages: 12+
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 03/10/2019
Pages: 784

Review: The Book of Dust, Vol. 1 – La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

9780857561084.jpgConfession time, ladies and gentlemen.

(And this one’s a biggie).

I have never read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

This was not intentional. I was not, have not, and never will, revolt against Philip Pullman’s impressive body of work. It’s just a series that skipped me by. Honestly — and this might be the most horrifying admission of all — I didn’t know the books existed until I saw the film adaptation of Northern Lights. Which I didn’t particularly enjoy, by the way, so who can blame me for not dashing to my nearest independent bookstore and laying down my hard-earned dollars for it?

So, yes: there it is. There is a glaring hole in my reading history. I hereby turn in my Bookseller ID until further notice. But I’ll have you know, having just finished (mere moments ago) The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage, I have a beautiful hardcover of the Northern Lights trilogy on order, and it will be mine by week’s end. Because, my goodness, did I love this first book in a new trilogy set in that same universe. I mean, seriously. What a delight. What a ride. What an adventure. It’s a less a book I read, more a book I experienced. Which makes me wonder how those who read the original trilogy must be feeling, having already sampled this universe and its characters, who are aided by their knowledge of its history and wonders. Even more dazzled, no doubt. Desperate for the second volume, which is a whole year away.

I was tempted to read His Dark Materials books prior to the release of The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage, because I could feel the excitement bubbling from various components of the book world. I decided not to, purely because I wanted to see how newcomers to this world would react to stepping into it for the first time. As a bookseller, I am often asked what books are the best jumping on points in various series, and I wanted to be able to insist readers could start afresh with The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage. And they can. They absolutely can.

Sure, new readers will undoubtedly miss certain winks and nods Pullman intersperses into his tale, and certain characters who play vital roles in His Dark Materials make appearances here, which we can’t fully fathom — The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage is very much a prequel, after all. But Philip Pullman is one of the best storytellers on the planet, and he knows how to tell a brilliant story without weighing it down in continuity. Don’t be scared by what you don’t know coming in blind: delight that you’ve so much to learn and discover!

It’s the vividly drawn characters that truly resonate. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Pollstead and Alice Parslow are two young heroes you’ll want to follow to hell and back, and indeed, we do. The story is told in two parts, the first of which wonderfully builds tension around a certain baby named Lyra who was recently consigned to the sisters of a priory nearby Malcolm’s home, who has become a target of menacing villain. The second part of the story is donated to Malcolm and Alice’s helter-skelter escape from a devastating flood, and their determination to protect young Lyra from those who’d do her harm.

There’s more to it than that, naturally — but this is a novel that deserves to be read without forewarning of its wonders and horrors. Just know that The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage moves at a cracking pace, and Pullman’s prose never falters. There are moments you’ll be clasping the book white-knuckled, heart pounding; others when you’ll want to weep as our exhausted heroes attempt to overcome impossible opposition.

The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage is an extraordinary start to what promises to be another blockbuster trilogy. This is the complete novel: it makes you think, feel, and desperate for more.

ISBN: 9780857561084
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 560
Imprint: David Fickling Books
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Publish Date: 19-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom