The Secret Commonwealth jumps about two decades from the ending of its predecessor. I said with La Belle Sauvage that you did not have to read His Dark Materials, but that is not the case with The Secret Commonwealth.
I was really excited for this, especially after really enjoying the first of this series. Bu other than the prose, each element of this story was weaker and less intriguing. But it is still a book that fans of this world will enjoy.
The main protagonist is Lyra once again, now a few years older. A major theme of the novel is her arguing with her daemon, which was heartbreaking, but jarred horribly with their personalties. It seemed forced and only to drive the plot further, making no real sense.
“You're in a world full of colour and you want to see it in black and white.”
The main character of the former book, Malcolm, is also in this, now a professor. I loved his naive determination and moral code in the first book, but was put-off in this one. He makes a few….questionable decisions that really distanced me from the character and took me out of the story. I’m sure those who have read The Secret Commonwealth will know what I am referring to.
A disheartening aspect to this book is that the events of the previous series appear to have been for nothing. The world and its evils have not been suppressed or altered in any way, making His Dark Materials basically useless.
Of course Pullman’s prose will never be a weakness. It is lyrical as always and immersive. Narrated by the wonderful Michael Sheen, the style convinced me to plough on through this massive book! My two favourite aspects of the experience.
“You won’t understand anything about the imagination until you realise that it’s not about making things up, it’s about perception.”
Overall, The Secret Commonwealth was a disappointment on all levels, with the exception of prose. And also the narration on Audible was brilliant, which is not down to Phillip Pullman himself. Characters developed in unnatural ways, plot seemed forced, and it was very different from the usual experiences I have had regarding Pullman’s works.
So, my 20th read of 2020! La Belle Sauvage
After all the craze about the new His Dark Materials programme, I though it would be a good time to delve into The Book of Dust series, which I have had waiting on my shelf for quite a while now. And I am glad that I finally did.
La Belle Sauvage is a prequel to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The events of that series have faded in my mind in the past few years, so I was worried it would hinder by experience reading this, but I was wrong to do so. This would actually be a good book to read before delving into the adventure of His Dark Materials.
“Words belong in contexts, not pegged out like biological specimens.”
This goes back about a decade, when Lyra, the central protagonist of His Dark Materials, is just a baby. The main protagonist is Malcolm Polstead, an inquisitive, kind and intelligent boy. He meets the baby Lyra, and feels a purpose to protect her. I loved the character of Malcolm. His genuine kindness was heartwarming and executed believably. I hope to see more of him in the rest of this series.
I read this on audiobook, narrated by the wonderful Michael Sheen. He was brilliant! His array of accents, in particular his hyena impression, was just amazing to listen to. I felt every emotion of this journey. The laughter, the intrigue, the fear. Truly a rollercoaster of emotions.
La Belle Sauvage saw the creation of a villain whom I truly learnt to fear. They were absolutely terrifying. Whenever they were present, everyone was at risk, and nothing could be predicted. And the delivery of Michael Sheen just made this more prominent and scary. This was one of the strengths of this book in my opinion.
I don’t know how to summarise Pullman’s prose other than labelling it as lyrical. It really is just consistently smooth and wonderful. Enchanting. This aspect to the story allowed me to get through this audiobook in basically two slots, carrying me smoothly along.
“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”
Regarding the plot, La Belle Sauvage is a slow-burner. It takes quite a while to kick off, with a few important moments occurring in the first half. But the second half is where it all kicked off. After that point, there was hardly time to breath as the story swept you from one tribulation to another.
While I enjoyed the prose, characters and plot, there wasn’t the extra part that really hooked me to the story. I was invested in Malcolm, but not really the rest of the cast, and there wasn’t much that was at stake. But despite this, I still thoroughly enjoyed La Belle Sauvage, and look forward to starting its sequel, The Secret Commonwealth, soon!