the secret Commonwealth [book review]

Now that I have read The secret Commonwealth over the X break, I cannot but wait eagerly for the third volume! The book is indeed quite good, much in the spirit of the first ones in His dark materials than of the previous La belle sauvage. When La belle sauvage was at its core an oniric and symbolic tale floating on the Thames, with some events on the side, The secret Commonwealth on the opposite is much more centred on adventures and quests and a real story (or rather make it three!) and a growing threat, with side philosophical musings. Quite the opposite of the first book, in short. Even the time localisation is reverted. While La belle sauvage was taking place ten years before His dark materials, making Lyra a very young baby, this book takes place ten years later with Lyra a young adult, growing very quickly in maturity through the pages of the book. The two are so incredibly different that they could have almost be written by different authors… The secret Commonwealth is also much more cosmopolitan than its older sibling as both Lyra and Pan leave Oxford, then England to travel through Europe and Middle East towards a most dangerous destination. The central theme of the book is whether or not Reason or Rationalism should guide one’s life. Given the magical realism of the novel, where the soul of each character is expressed as a companion expressed as a particular animal, a marten called Pan (short for Pantalaimon) for Lyra, it is somewhat an easy (easier than in our own World!) plot line to dismiss rationalist thinkers pretending they do no exist. And to paint the philosophers following this route as either shallow and more interested in rethorics (than philosophy) or fake and deluded. Since Lyra reading these authors is the reason for a widening split between her and Pan, I did not find this part the best in the plot, even though it seemed inevitable. But the resulting quest and the “chance” meetings of both central characters are gripping and well-written, as well as deeply poignant. All characters build some depth, esp. compared with La belle sauvage where they were mostly caricatures. As it is very rare that the second volume in a series brings so much pleasure and improvements, I strongly recommend it (even as a start, skipping La belle sauvage !)

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