The windows between the many worlds have been sealed and the momentous adventures of Lyra Silvertongue’s youth are long behind her—or so she thought. Lyra is now a twenty-year-old undergraduate at St. Sophia’s College and intrigue is swirling around her once more. Her daemon Pantalaimon is witness to a brutal murder, and the dying man entrusts them with secrets that carry echoes from their past.
The more Lyra is drawn into these mysteries, the less she is sure of. Even the events of her own past come into question when she learns of Malcolm Polstead’s role in bringing her to Jordan College.
Now Lyra and Malcolm will travel far beyond the confines of Oxford, across Europe and into the Levant, searching for a city haunted by daemons, and a desert said to hold the truth of Dust. The dangers they face will challenge everything they thought they knew about the world, and about themselves.
The other side's got an energy that our side en't got. Comes from their certainty about being right. If you got that certainty, you'll be willing to do anything to bring about the end you want. It's the oldest human problem, Lyra, an' it's the difference between good and evil. Evil can be unscrupulous, and good can't. Evil has nothing to stop it doing what it wants, while good has one hand tied behind its back. To do the things it needs to do to win, it'd have to become evil to do 'em.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a series like this before. With a twenty-year jump between books and a series within a series, it’s certainly an interesting experience. The Secret Commonwealth is much denser than La Belle Sauvage. A large portion of this book is overwhelmingly philosophical and filled with theoretical debate. While this was enjoyable, it did make the story drag at times.
You won't understand anything about the imagination until you realize that it's not about making things up, it's about perception.
The spy thriller vibes increased significantly since the first instalment. The evolution of our perception of Malcolm as a person from start to finish is one of my favourite parts. He starts as this bumbling professor that Lyra comments on having an awkward class with, and by the end, the extent of his ability to traverse the world as a spy is quite evident as he sheds the professor disguise. It was also great when Lya had to reevaluate her world when Malcolm and Alice admitted their role in keeping her safe as an infant.
"You used to be optimistic. You used to think that whatever we did would turn out well. Even after we came back from the north, you used to think that. Now you're cautious, you're anxious…you're pessimistic."
She knew he was right, but it wasn't right that he should speak to her accusingly, as if it was something to blame her for.
"I used to be young" was all she could find to say.
The new Master at Oxford is the worst. It’s hard to tell whether he’s corrupt or just a weak person, but either way, it’s very easy to dislike him. It’s rare to have someone who makes such a short appearance make such a terrible impact, but that is certainly the case here. Maybe because there are so many brave and interesting characters, the Master stood out as being the opposite, but Pullman has created a rich and exciting world within these series, and I’ve loved getting to see more of it from a range of perspectives. It took a little time to adjust to Lyra as a young adult in the world, especially considering her changed (and strained) relationship with Pantalaimon, but I love every new development.
If rationality can't see things like the secret commonwealth, it's because rationality's vision is limited. The secret commonwealth is there. We can't see it with rationality any more than we can weigh something with a microscope: it's the wrong sort of instrument. We need to imagine as well as measure….
One exciting note – the alchemy setup in Lyra’s Oxford finally makes sense. I was hoping that it would show up again and might start to play a bigger role, and it certainly did! If I said La Belle Sauvage was dark, though, this is on an entirely different level. I could not believe what happened to Lyra while she was on the train – I’m still expecting the middle-grade fiction of the His Dark Materials series, but Lyra is most definitely not a child.
Lyra bent over the open vessel and found the concentrated fragrance of every rose that had ever bloomed: a sweetness and power so profound that it moved beyond sweetness altogether and out of the other side of its own complexity into a realm of clear and simple purity and beauty. It was like the smell of sunlight itself.
The Secret Commonwealth ends with the best/worst cliffhanger, and I cannot handle it. It’s killing me that I can’t find an expected publishing date for the third volume – I need to know what happens next! There’s an overwhelming undertone of sadness throughout this narrative. Lyra is so lost, Pan is so distraught, and their journeys are fascinating. The writing is beautiful and captivating; it’s no wonder I want to keep reading.
She couldn't get any further at that point. The sky full of stars seemed dead and cold, everything in it the result of the mechanical, indifferent interactions of molecules and particles that would continue for the rest of time, whether Lyra lived or died, whether human beings were conscious or unconscious: a vast, silent, empty indifference, all quite meaningless.
Reason had brought her to this state. She had exalted reason over every other faculty. The result had been—was now—the deepest unhappiness she had ever felt.