The latest book in Philip Pullman’s epic series which began with the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth is set in the same parallel world where we first met Lyra and her dæmon, Pantalaimon. I re-read last year’s La Belle Sauvage, then the new book, and then the original books all over again, just to stay in this fictional universe a little longer. Its a world with many overlaps to our own and some differences, notably that a part of your consciousness is external to you in the form of an animal. It is immensely painful to be separated from your dæmon, and those who have been are viewed with fear and pity. It is one of the ways Pullman explores the idea of character and identity, an an irresistible concept if you’ve ever wondered what your spirit guide, anima or animus might be. Dæmons are viewed as a possible manifestation of Dust, the mysterious substance flowing through the worlds in Lyra’s story. Although it began as a series for young people, this latest installment is years ahead and a lot more grown up, in much the same way the characters in the Harry Potter books grew with their readers. The Secret Commonwealth is almost bleak in parts, and the themes are dark and complicated. I felt that Lyra went through grueling punishment, especially the second part of the book where I winced through chapters of estrangement, sexual violence and a broken hand. I’ll be eager for volume three though, if only to see anything like a happy ending, or resolution to the story’s multitude of threads.
David Fickling Books / Penguin 2019