Oh, how I loved the first book in this trilogy (La Belle Sauvage)! It was one of my favorite books of 2018, and I had such high hopes for The Secret Commonwealth. Maybe, had my expectations been a little lower, I would have enjoyed this more. Sadly, The Secret Commonwealth ended up being rather disappointing.
The Secret Commonwealth starts with Lyra Silvertongue, now in her early 20s, as a student St. Sophia’s College in Oxford. We also learn in the first part of the book what has become of Malcolm and Alice, the protagonists from La Belle Sauvage. Several other characters from that book make appearances here, as well.
Like any book by Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth is full of exciting adventures, tense and daring escapes, and rich characterizations. These are things that he writes exceptionally well. Unfortunately, it also contains numerous tedious philosophical conversations between characters. When listening to the audiobook, these put me to sleep at times, but they may have been better on the page. Michael Sheen is a fantastic narrator but some of these conversations seemed interminable. In addition, while Pullman writes children very well, he does less well with Lyra as a young adult and some of the things she was supposedly thinking or feeling made me roll my eyes because they sounded very much like what an adult man would think that a young woman would be thinking or feeling, not what she would actually be thinking or feeling. In addition, toward the end of the book there’s a disturbing scene of sexual violence which I think was rather unnecessary.
The biggest quibble I have with The Secret Commonwealth, though, is that it’s a cliffhanger that ends with almost every character in mortal peril, and I have no idea when book 3 is even coming out. Lyra’s world in this book is incredibly dark, and in my opinion this is the most depressing of all of Pullman’s novels about Lyra. It made it a bit hard to pick up at times, knowing that I was going to be reading more about Lyra and Pan being incredibly depressed, or about any of the characters being in dangerous circumstances. I breathed a sigh of relief whenever the story moved back to Malcolm, the only one whose life didn’t seem to be in danger at all times thanks to his Oakley Street membership.
I’ll always read any book about Lyra’s world, and I’m looking forward to Book 3. The Secret Commonwealth may have been somewhat of a disappointment to me overall, but truthfully I’m not sure how any sequel could have lived up to the promise of La Belle Sauvage.