The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Something strange just happened.
After having just read La Belle Sauvage and also having just read the original His Dark Materials trilogy (for the second time, but again, recently), I have come to the conclusion that this might be my favorite of all five books.
I mean, I liked the original trilogy well enough but I never went gaga over it. Maybe it was about the problem of agency. Or perhaps it was a few other issues. But I never disliked all the wonderful pan-religiosity, the many subversions, references, and the overall worldbuilding.
And then the first Book of Dust came along and while I thought the whole quest was somewhat interesting, it never lived up to the whole promise of the rest. I mean, if you can sum up the entire damn book in a single sentence and the sentence bores you, you know you have a problem.
So what happened here? All of a sudden we have a Lyra 7 years after the events of HDM and she's a young woman with a problem. A meme problem. A mental health problem. She's having issues with Pan and Pan is having (I rather think,) more issues with her. I'm on Pan's side here. Lyra's behaving abominably.
That being said, Pullman has pulled off a much more complicated tale than the first book, adding a real good reason FOR the first book, giving us many new reasons why Lyra's world is falling apart while also making a huge commentary on Europe's current issues in general. The worldbuilding is obviously commentary. But it's GOOD commentary.
Add all the spycraft, the mystery, the book-long chase and the quest that seems to revolve around separated Daemons, and all of a sudden, the Big Picture finally got interesting again. I missed that in the first book. A lot. In fact, if it wasn't for the need for the investment in a few certain characters in THIS book, I might say... skip the first book. Just skip it. The Lyra baby survives the flood and gets Sanctuary. Move on.
But seen in this next book's light, I have to admit it all comes together rather nicely. Even if there is a 20 year gap. At least Pullman is able to pull off some rip-roaring good tales full of episodic action, great timing, and a million interesting characters. I never got bored with this one at all.
Just a warning, tho:
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