the secret commonwealth review

It’s been 25 years since The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the U.K.) was first published and became a children’s lit hit. A coming-of-age story nestled in a riveting otherworldly adventure filled with witches, talking polar bears, and animal companions, Pullman would use that children’s fantasy smokescreen to slowly introduce an unexpected subversion of Milton’s Paradise Lost. When the heroine Lyra fails to save her friend at the end of The Golden Compass, the shock that that this was not going to be your average children’s fantasy adventure was eye-opening. It was just the beginning of Pullman’s extraordinary twists — soon his lighthearted fantasy adventure turned into an epic of God-killing proportions. By the time The Amber Spyglass hit bookshelves in 2000, readers of Pullman’s newly dubbed His Dark Materials trilogy were changed — coming of age through the series much like the beloved characters.

But 25 years later, His Dark Materials is ready for adulthood. The author made a highly anticipated return to the world of His Dark Materials (after a brief sojourn in 2003 with the short story Lyra’s Oxford) with 2017’s La Belle Sauvage, the first installment in a new spin-off trilogy The Book of Dust. It was a solid new novel that recaptured the wondrous quality of the original books while adding a fairy tale-like spin. But its narrative, which followed two new characters who embark on a journey to protect Lyra as a baby during a flood that nearly wipes out Oxford, was rather slim. The second book in The Book of Dust, the recently released The Secret Commonwealth, swings in the complete opposite direction, with a more mature tone and a complex plot involving religious conspiratorial schemes and roses that stretches out over a monstrous 600 pages.

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