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The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Volume 2) Paperback – November 3, 2020
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Return to the world of His Dark Materials—now an HBO original series starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, 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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From the Publisher
|His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass (Book 1)||His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife (Book 2)||His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass (Book 3)||The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Volume 1)||The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Volume 2)|
|Enter the world of His Dark Materials||The modern fantasy classic soon to be an HBO original series – HIS DARK MATERIALS!||The second book in the HIS DARK MATERIALS series – soon to be an HBO original series!||The third book in the HIS DARK MATERIALS series – soon to be an HBO original series!||Set in the same world as HIS DARK MATERIALS - meet Lyra before the events of The Golden Compass!||Set in the same world as HIS DARK MATERIALS - discover what happened to Lyra after The Amber Spyglass!|
“A big novel full of big ideas, big characters and big sorrows. . . This book feels like a response to the darkness of our time.”—NPR
“Pullman’s best novel so far. A work of extraordinary depth and humanity.” —The Observer
“As always, Pullman’s writing is simple, unpretentious, beautiful, true. . . . the conclusion to the Book of Dust can’t come soon enough.” —The Washington Post
“The novel gallops forward, full of danger, delight and surprise. Pullman is a staggeringly gifted storyteller.” —New Statesman
“Mr. Pullman’s writing is clear, clean and forceful, never striving for effect and all the more effective because of it. He’s also a man of ideas, which gives great savor to his work.” – The Wall Street Journal
“Coming back to [Lyra] after all these years is such a profound pleasure that I can do nothing but sit back and watch her charge forward into the night, ready as she always was to remake the world in her own image.”—Vox
“Profound and provocative.” —Bulletin
“The Secret Commonwealth reasserts Pullman’s affection for the wondrous and those pieces of reality which can be seen only by those willing to see.”—Newsweek
“These books, and the intellectual debate they produce, make Lyra’s world feel more lived-in than ever before.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Not only is it worthy second installment in The Book of Dust trilogy, it continues to prove this sequence will be every bit as excellent as His Dark Materials.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer
About the Author
The Book of Dust, Pullman’s eagerly anticipated return to the world of His Dark Materials, will also be a book in three parts. It began with La Belle Sauvage and continues with The Secret Commonwealth.
Philip Pullman is the author of many other beloved novels. For younger readers: I Was a Rat!, Count Karlstein, Two Crafty Criminals!, Spring-Heeled Jack, and The Scarecrow and His Servant. For older readers: the Sally Lockhart quartet (The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well, and The Tin Princess), The White Mercedes, and The Broken Bridge. He has written a magnificent collection, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and his essays and lectures on writing and storytelling have been gathered in a volume called Dæmon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling.
Philip Pullman lives in Oxford, England.
- Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers (November 3, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 656 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0553510703
- ISBN-13 : 978-0553510706
- Reading age : 14 - 17 years
- Lexile measure : HL830L
- Grade level : 9 - 12
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.56 x 1.38 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #41,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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I wish, however, that I had waited to buy this second volume of it. The first, Belle Sauvage, is a stand-alone book. This one is an installment -- it ends with the most blatant cliffhanger I've encountered yet.
If the third book of the trilogy existed, I would have just bought it and been happy. But it doesn't, and I can't even pre-order it. Just sayin' -- you might want to wait to buy this one til its other half is published.
I'm almost finished with "The Secret Commonwealth," and I have mixed feelings about this one. On the positive side: It is better than "La Belle Sauvage" and it returns more to the original template of the "Dark Materials" triology. It's a pleasure to return to some of the original characters.
On the more negative or "mixed" side: This book does not have the mythic sweep of the original trilogy, which kept me always engaged in terms of its metaphysical revelations and plot twists. There is nothing in the current book that comes up to the original trilogy's ties to the story of "the fall" in the Old Testament. The characters in the current book seem more "black and white" to me than many of the central characters in "Dark Materials." Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter were always fascinating and magnetic, if sometimes (often?) despicable, and there were many subtleties in their portrayals. Indeed, they seemed to be "demi-gods" in some respects. There are no characters that come close to this kind of complexity and subtlety in the current book.
Also, "The Secret Commonwealth" often seems, to me, to have a "Perils of Pauline" quality to it: The characters move from crisis to crisis, and from one kind of extreme peril to another, with little cohesive plot narrative holding it all together. It's more action for the sake of action. The book seems more "plot driven" than character or concept driven. Apropos of this, I learned very little new about the nature of "Dust" in reading this book. However, I certainly did when I read "His Dark Materials."
The plot of "The Secret Commonwealth" seems much more driven by coincidence and happenstance than that of the "Dark Materials" trilogy. (I know, this shows the influence of "the secret commonwealth," but at some point the continual coincidental occurrences strain credulity. I know this is a fantasy work, but in "Dark Materials" the world depicted seemed more coherent and the "magic" had a kind of internal consistency to it.)
Some of the characters seem just too good and too astute to be true. For example, in the course of his adventures and battles, Malcolm seems just too able to instantly grasp situations, see subtle nonverbal cues in others, and perceive "exits" from almost impossibly difficult situations. Alison Wetherfield also seemed "too good to be true." Pullman tells us she will return in his final book. It seemed clear to me from her first appearance that there was "more to her" than was being revealed at the time.
Some of the scenes simply didn't have a kind of psychological reality to me. For example, when Lyra visited the elderly princess in her mansion, it would make sense to me that the princess would offer Lyra a night's lodging, and not just send her on her dusty, dreary way. Also, the way some characters were able to "talk down" violent situations (as in the meeting of rose growers that was attacked by the "mountain men") seemed unrealistic to me. And Lyra just blabbed too much to absolute strangers. In my mind, for all its wild and exotic fantasy, the "Dark Materials" trilogy was characterized by a kind of rigorous psychological reality.
There's much more violence in "Secret Commonwealth" than in "Dark Materials." Just an observation. I know Pullman says this is a darker story for a Lyra who is now an adult.
Finally, the attempt to relate the plot to current events (e.g., the current refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe) seems mixed in its effectiveness, to me.
And finally, finally: God was killed at the end of the "Dark Materials." But I guess he's never really killed, is he? The Magesterium just keeps making comebacks.
If the "Dark Materials" was Lyra's quest through the frigid north of (some) adults' and adult institutions' cruelty, then "Secret Commonwealth" is her trek through the parched desert of the soul (or lack of soul).
Top reviews from other countries
This is a really hard review for me to write because I was looking forward to this book so much. I loved His Dark Materials as a teen and, although I was disappointed by La Belle Sauvage, I was excited to find out what Lyra was like as an adult. However, the result wasn't entirely satisfying.
While it was nice to revisit Lyra's Oxford once again, my biggest problem with The Secret Commonwealth was its length. This novel pushes 700 pages in length and it certainly felt it. While the early chapters, in which Lyra and Pan investigated a murder, were gripping, the novel soon began to get bogged down. While the previous novels all contained complex themes, The Secret Commonwealth is the first that I would say is probably too complex for younger readers. The novel has no characters under the age of twenty this time around, and the dialogue contains some stark criticism of organised religion, politics and philosophy that often touches close to real life events.
The novel also contains some very adult incidents. While the earlier novels could be violent and frightening in places, this novel was just dark. The worse violence in the story is almost exclusively focused on female characters, who are still largely seem to be a lot weaker and less effectual than their male counterparts. Once act of violence against a primary character towards the end of the novel left a particularly bad taste in my mouth as it was gratuitous and used purely for shock value, adding nothing to the character's development.
The novel flips between the third person perspectives four primary protagonists - Lyra Silvertongue, Pantalaimon, Malcolm Polstead and Olivier Bonneville - with occasional chapters that focus on other secondary characters. As with previous instalments, I personally felt that this was to much. The focus jumped around a lot, giving us glimpses into the characters at different points in their journeys with no true sense of the passage of time. None of the these stories received any degree of closure, which brings me to another problem. The Secret Commonwealth is a middle novel of the worst kind, acting as an extended build up to the final act. While characters are moved into position, no plots are tied up and the novel ends with a horrible cliffhanger, cutting off the action in mid-flow and raising many questions without answering any.
In terms of characterisation, I was also left a bit underwhelmed. The Lyra of this story is a pale shadow of what she once was and just seems ordinary. Gone is her confidence and ability to lie, apparently swallowed by her newfound interest in philosophy, although I never truly felt this in the story. While Lyra did get some of this back as the story progressed, she is still thoroughly dependant on others over the course of the story, particularly the male characters.
Pan also posed a problem. While he was more sympathetic than Lyra, I never really understood how their hatred of each other began and Pan's actions in the story make as little sense as Lyra's. He often seems to be spoiling for an argument, provoked by nothing, and he seems to vanish from the plot in its final act. Ultimately, I wasn't even sure where he was during the climax.
Malcolm's chapters are a little more interesting, as he seems a lot more in control than Lyra, though I did find his attraction to her a little unsettling. While I have no issue with the age gap (both are adults), the fact that he has known her from birth and seemed to have some attraction to her as an underage student made this very creepy. As with Pan, the final time we see Malcolm in the story also left his fate uncertain, which was most frustrating!
Beyond these three, the novel had a vast cast of secondary character across many different countries. Everywhere that Lyra and Malcolm travelled seemed to open up a new host of friends and foes, many of whom were brand new. This often made me have to flip backwards and forwards to remind myself who belonged to which faction and what their connections were, as many only existed as names and received little development as the story progressed.
So, all in all, I liked this book more than La Belle Sauvage but it still had many problems with pacing and characterisation. He's hoping that all of this build-up leads to a more satisfying finale!
To say I am disappointed in this book is a huge understatement. If you are a fan of His Dark Materials no doubt you have already read this but WITH SOME DEGREE OF SPOILER i will try and outline now why it has upset me so much. It started well enough with a little bit of intrigue. Lyra is not nearly as compelling to read as an adult and her relationship with Pan is upsetting. The events of His Dark Materials also seem to have had a bizarrely immaterial effect on the world when one consides the magisterium was on the loosing side of a rather massive conflict. And a quarter of the way through the book Pullman slaps you in the face: crowbarring awkwardly and unnecessarily a 'love' story between characters that is as inappropriate, creepy and morally repugnant as it is a total betrayal of a character's former good nature who was much loved by me before this novel. And leaving me wanting that character to die a profoundly noble death at the earliest opportunity so he might be forgiven for his lecherous sniffing. So profoundly shocking was this ridiculous writing decision that I felt like putting my kindle down and not reading more. The book then progressively turns into a more and more extraordinarily boring snorefest of one irritating nothing after another - with absolutely no imperative whatsoever driving the reader to turn the pages and read on to the end.
The story is a nonsensical mishmash of odd encounters and ideas with no substantive overarching gripping plot. Very few likeable or even very believable characters - adult versions of formerly child characters now dull stereotypes. What can only be described as gratuitous use of threat of, and actual, sexual violence was as insensitively written as it was irrelevant and unjustified in narrative terms, whilst being extraordinarily distressing to the reader. And along with a feeling that the author arbitrarily and morbidly wished to focus on sinister threats the context and subsequent narrative came off as being both misogynistic and culturally offensive or racist etc.
I read La Belle Sauvage in a night. This book was a grinding mission that took me several hateful days to wade through. Even the end of the book - with the exception of a couple of sections back in Oxford - was thoroughly dull. Excruciatingly dull.
My wife finished it before me and we agreed (as did friends of hers) on the above points made.
Read His Dark Materials, and read La Belle Sauvage - and if after that you have fallen in love with the characters therein: LEAVE THIS BOOK WELL ALONE.
I am returning the hardback copy for a refund - we do not want a keepsake of this horrific failure. In fact, I am seeing a hypnotherapist to see if the memory of it can be substantively repressed.
The interesting inventions that overflowed in the previous books just aren't there. Where are the bears? Where are the witches? The mulefa? What happened after all the seismic changes in the first volumes? And the introduction of characters like Mozart and Napoleon - yes, honestly - don't sit well in a world that's supposed to have split off from our world several hundred years ago.
Part of the plot consists of an argument between two best-selling philosophers who have somewhat reductionist views of human life. Neither is described with any sort of detail, they're not very interesting, and I really can't work out what purpose they serve. I suppose the intention was to satirise some current debates - or maybe to revert to Gulliver's discovery of the big-enders and little-enders - but the satire lacks bite.
I'll finish it, of course; just as I used to finish my vegetables. But I doubt I'll enjoy it or even remember what it was all about.
I did turn the pages, of course, in the hope that something interesting would be over-leaf but it seldom was and I lost the will to live long before the end.
As for people here praising the writing, I can't think what sort of things they must be reading.
To me the writing is humdrum, without much spark or wit.
I want a work of fiction to have me riveted. To find that hours have flown by and it won't be too long before I have to get up.
I can think of any number of authors to whom that applies, even in some of their books that I don't rate too highly. And many make profound points, as well as entertain.
I'm struggling to think why the author bothered. The reasons can't surely be financial so if it's social commentary he's wanting to make, why not just come out and make it without fictionalising in such a long, drawn out fashion..
I'm also at a loss as to how professional reviewers can be so full of praise. Perhaps they're unable to see profundity in the real world and have to look for it elsewhere.
Lyra's character has changed so significantly that it is impossible to recognise in her the child she once was. This would be fine if her character was properly developed, but this Lyra is almost 2 dimensional.
The other characters range from pantomime villain to forgettable raconteurs. None are given any depth or a unique voice. It's possible that they will be further developed in the next book, but for now I almost needed to write a dramatis personae to keep them apart.
Finally, the writing style is nowhere near as engaging and tight as in previous Pullman books. It almost feels as if the Editor was on holiday and the book went straight to print without refinement.
Overall a disappointing offer after a 2 year wait. Now instead of looking forward to the next release, I am dreading the decision on whether to stay with it to the bitter end or abandon the series now as a lost cause.