his dark materials novella

When The Amber Spyglass brought Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy to an end in 2000, that seemed like the end of the story of its protagonist. But 20 years later, and we’re still following the bullish heroine on adventures in her parallel-world Oxford — both on screen in the excellent HBO/BBC TV series adaptation, and in new books published by Pullman.

While Pullman’s latest novel The Secret Commonwealth, the second in a new trilogy of books set in the world of His Dark Materials, picks up with Lyra as an adult, Pullman had been keeping an unseen His Dark Materials novella about teenage Lyra in his pocket since 2004. Finally, Pullman will be releasing that novella, titled Serpentine, this October.

In 2004, Pullman secretly penned a sequel story to his beloved His Dark Materials trilogy, picking up with his plucky protagonist Lyra Silvertongue as a teenager. No one would ever read it, except for two winners of a charity auction. Until now. Entertainment Weekly revealed that Serpentine is being published as a novella this October to mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Golden Compass.

“Why are we publishing this story now?” Pullman began in a statement. “Because with the development of The Book of Dust, especially after the events described in The Secret Commonwealth, we can see a change in the way Lyra understands herself, and her relationship with Pantalaimon, which is prefigured in this little Arctic episode.”

The Book of Dust is Pullman’s ongoing companion trilogy, beginning with 2017’s La Belle Sauvage, which takes place 12 years before the events of His Dark Materials, and continuing with the most recent book, The Secret Commonwealth, published in 2019. The Secret Commonwealth is a dense, ambitious saga that picks up with Lyra as an adult, now estranged with her daemon, Pantalaimon. It’s a shocking development for the reader at the beginning of the book, which drives the conflict of the story (which, in my review of The Secret Commonwealth, I was mixed on, due to its overwhelming ambition but clunky execution). A few of Lyra’s previous adventures were referenced in The Secret Commonwealth, some of which had already been expanded on in shorter companion novels like 2003’s Lyra’s Oxford. But it seems like Serpentine will fill in a valuable piece of the puzzle of The Secret Commonwealth. Pullman added in his statement:

“When I wrote Serpentine, I had no idea that I was going on to write another trilogy, showing Lyra as an adult, but she and her world wouldn’t leave me alone. When it comes to human affairs, a billion invisible filaments connect us to our own pasts, as well as to the most remote things we can imagine; and I hope that, above all, these books are about being alive and being human.”

According to the official description of Serpentine: “Lyra and Pan are older and a little wiser, and in search of an answer to a shocking, secret condition—their ability to separate—from the witch-consul, Dr. Lanselius. What unfolds is a tender, revelatory scene that foreshadows Lyra’s future struggles as a young woman, and provides insight into Pullman’s own early exploration of a previously unthinkable plot development that would emerge in his The Book of Dust sequence: the idea that a human’s bond with their daemon can be irreparably broken.”

Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite) will narrate the audiobook version of Serpentine, which will drop in hardcover and eBook on October 15, 2020. The second season of His Dark Materials, based on the second book, The Subtle Knife, is also set to premiere sometime later this year.

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