The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) by Philip Pullman

As I’d mentioned in my review of La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), I decided to (finally) read the series when I saw paperback copies of The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) in bookstores. What? There were already paperbacks of book 2 out, and I still hadn’t read book 1?! OK, time to read. And then after reading book 1, I tried to hunt down hardbacks of book 2, but couldn’t find one. Thankfully, my friend introduced me to Book Depository, from where I ordered this specific edition. (Having consistent editions sparks joy in my life.)

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.

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La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

Here’s another book that made me question my life decisions. Why on earth did I wait this long to read La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), when I’d had it with me for two years? (My childhood best friend gifted this to me last Christmas 2017.) Here, a confession: I was scared I wouldn’t fall in love with The Book of Dust as much as I did with His Dark Materials, which I’d read more than ten years ago (and also which the same friend introduced to me in high school).

I finally took the leap of faith (dramatic, I know) after seeing The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) at a bookstore. What? There were already paperback copies of book two, and I hadn’t even read book one?! I actually had different books to read lined up at that time, but it just so happened that (1) I’d misplaced the nonfiction book I was currently reading, and (2) I’d left the fantasy book I was planning to read behind when I left for home-home for the holidays. Well, that worked out; I was already itching to read La Belle Sauvage anyway.

The verdict: there were not many books I’d read this past year that enchanted me as much as La Belle Sauvage did.

Perhaps it’s because reading La Belle Sauvage felt familiar. As I’d mentioned earlier, I read His Dark Materials in high school, and I still remember feeling taken by Lyra and her world (and Will Parry). Part of me feels like The Book of Dust was written for readers who grew up with His Dark Materials, for readers who hold Lyra near and dear their hearts.

Now that I’m older, I felt tension in their world more than I did back in high school. Knowing more about the world, I felt anxious for Malcolm, whose growing up was expedited by the circumstances he found himself in. I empathized with Malcolm as he discovered what it meant to love, and I felt proud of him as he used both heart and mind to make his decisions. And because the entire series is a prequel, I knew from the start that everything was going to turn out alright in the end. Still I couldn’t help but ride the same roller coaster of emotions as Malcolm did throughout the book. Growing up is never easy for anyone—I will leave it at that.

Someone please give Philip Pullman ten million gold stars and me a (hardbound) copy of The Secret Commonwealth because I am entranced. I know it will be a while before I read the second book (to be fair, I am making good progress with my stack of unread books), but I have been telling my friends to read La Belle Sauvage because I want to gush about the book and more to them already. Please appreciate with me.