The events in The Secret Commonwealth occur twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and eight after His Dark Materials. I admit that I could benefit from rereading His Dark Materials (I read it more than ten years ago…), but Philip Pullman tied all of the characters and events so well in The Book of Dust #1 and #2 that I was able to recall the backstories as I read on.
The Secret Commonwealth was almost perfect, except that it felt too much like a lead in to a third book. But I appreciate. I’m going to rave about certain events in the book, so I will tell you now that this post has spoilers.
I’d known early on that I did not enjoy reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Apart from reading depressing scenarios each time I open the book, I did not enjoy following too many characters—generations of the Buendia—most of whom repeated the same mistakes through the years. None of the characters were very likable, and most of them did not get enough airtime—with the exception of Ursula and Colonel Aureliano Buendia, both of whom lived very long lives—for readers to learn to love them.
It seems that I should have stopped reading the book early on, cut my losses, and moved on with my life. However, I chose to finish reading this book because (1) I didn’t have too many options during this ECQ, and (2) I refused to let my effort of including the book in my move from SF to MNL to go to waste. So I read a chapter a night until the last night when I realized I could finally get my closure.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautifully written book. I liked how the socio-economic landscape changed through the years even if it was as if nothing ever changed in that town. I found myself referring back to the family tree (very helpful if you decide to read this) provided in the beginning of the book. (The family tree spoils nothing, in my opinion.) When I reached the ending, I appreciated how Gabriel Garcia Marquez tied up all the loose ends. Everything made sense, and I appreciated the book as a whole after reading that last sentence.
Verdict: It is not my cup of tea, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment having read this book. I’m glad I didn’t have to read this for Literature class in school (some people had to). Otherwise, I would never have had the drive to finish this book since, on top of my not enjoying the book, I hate assigned reading.
Leave it to VE Schwab to come up with a strong female protagonist. Lexi Harris is adventurous, and, in skill and attitude, she takes after her father. I like her spirit, but, as a young person, she doesn’t seem to think of the consequences of her actions. Then again, we wouldn’t have this story if she actually thought things through…
The story is set in a small village, and I like the small-town dynamic. There’s a council of elders with an interesting origin story and a set of folk songs passed on from generation to generation—these are the little things make small towns unique, even if they share general characteristics. Knowing this, of course, something dark lurks nearby. We can’t live somewhere perfect, after all.
So yes, there’s a dark side to the story. And no—it’s not in the form of the mysterious male stranger that arrives in town. It’s more of an eerie type of darkness, one that reminded me of Coraline. I admit that I am quite easy to scare, which is why I avoid horror movies like the plague. But it was only at one point in the book anyway. (I was reading late at night and finally got creeped out, so put the book down and went to sleep instead. I finished the rest of the book in the morning—you know, while the sun was up.)
But my favorite part about The Near Witch is the magic. I loved that the magic is rooted in nature and that there was no need for wands, spells, or incantations. Verdict: I’m all about a nice community story. Yay, yay, I say read this book when you can!