Cover image for The secret commonwealth
The secret commonwealth

1st ed.
Physical Description:
633 pages : color illustration ; 24 cm.
General Note:
The second of three parts ; prequel to "His Dark Materials."
Lyra Belacqua, aka Lyra Silvertongue, is an undergraduate at St. Sophia's College. She and her daemon, the soft-furred pine marten Pantalaimon, are alienated to the point of hostility. Lyra falls under the influence of popular writers who express 'universal skepticism' and contempt for sentiment, kindness and faith. When Pantalaimon witnesses a murder, both of them are pulled into a conspiracy involving the Magisterium. Lyra reconnects with Malcolm Polstead, now a professor at the College, but they are soon drawn back into a battle Lyra thought she'd left behind forever.


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The #1 New York Times Bestseller!

Return to the world of His Dark Materials--now an HBO original series starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda--in the second volume of Philip Pullman's new bestselling masterwork The Book of Dust.

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.

Praise for The Book of Dust

"It's a stunning achievement, this universe Pullman has created and continues to build on." -- The New York Times

"Pullman's writing is simple, unpretentious, beautiful, true. The conclusion to The Book of Dust can't come soon enough."-- The Washington Post

Author Notes

Philip Pullman was born in Norwich on October 19, 1946. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English. He taught at various Oxford middle schools and at Westminster College for eight years. He is the author of many acclaimed novels, plays, and picture books for readers of all ages. His first book, Count Karlstein, was published in 1982. His other books include: The Firework-Maker's Daughter; I Was a Rat!; Clockwork or All Wound Up; and The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. He is also the author of the Sally Lockhart series and the His Dark Materials Trilogy. He is the author of The Book of Dust, volume 1. He has received numerous awards including the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Fiction Award for Northern Lights (The Golden Compass), the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for The Amber Spyglass, the Eleanor Farjeon Award for children's literature in 2002, and the Astrid Lindgren Award in 2005.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Twenty years after the events of La Belle Sauvage, and eight years after those of the His Dark Materials trilogy, this second volume in Pullman's Book of Dust series blends spy thriller, otherworldly travelogue, and philosophical musing. Twenty-year-old Lyra Silvertongue's student life in Oxford is upended when her daemon, Pantalaimon, witnesses an incident that entangles them with a covert agency to which Malcolm Polstead belongs, impelling Malcolm to investigate a shift in the global power balance. Meanwhile, Lyra's fascination with a logic-obsessed, daemon-omitting novel causes Pan to decamp in search of her imagination. Tracked by a young alethiometer savant named Bonneville, Lyra furtively sets out for the Levant, searching for a rumored refuge for separated daemons. Through prodigious planning that is likely to set up the final volume, Pullman connects characters and moments from all the previous books. The sprawling, sometimes meandering narrative follows Lyra, Pan, and Malcolm on their journeys while exploring the power of transnational religious and corporate organizations, the plight of various marginalized groups, and the importance of a worldview that includes unprovable truths. Lyra, Pantalaimon, and Malcolm are familiar yet altered by age; it is a pleasure to get to know them again. Ages 14--up. (Oct.)

Horn Book Review

Don't start here. While bibliographically this second entry in Pullman's Book of Dust trilogy follows La Belle Sauvage (rev. 10/18), biographically it picks up when Lyra is twenty, with all of the events of the initial His Dark Materials trilogy now ten years in her past. Lyra's life at Oxford is complicated by a new Master of Jordan College, who wants her out, and by changes in her relationship with her daemon, Pantalaimon. "You're a fucking stranger to me, Pan" says Lyra, and while the rift feels manufactured (Lyra is reading an Ayn Rand-like bestseller that Pullman Pan deems "dangerous"), it sets up the structure of the novel as the two go their separate ways, she in pursuit of the supernatural roses grown in a forbidding Central Asian desert; he in pursuit of Lyra's "imagination." Pullman's devotees will enjoy the often-surprising but neatly done connections to the previous volumes, with the did-they-or-didn't-they end of The Amber Spyglass (rev. 11/00) answered here, and the young hero Malcolm (of La Belle Sauvage) taking a new, grownup interest in Lyra and her quest. The novel is rich in incident, but sprawling, requiring us at one point to follow six separate characters chasing the secret roses and/or one another. The "Secret Commonwealth" of the title hints at being something even more essential than Dust, but readers will have to wait for the next volume to (perhaps) find out; indeed, this book provides no resolutions to any of the conflicts and quests it proposes. Like I said, don't start here. Roger Sutton November/December 2019 p.95(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Volume two in the Book of Dust trilogy set 20 years after La Belle Sauvage (2017), 8 years after The Amber Spyglass (2000) sees a jaded, grown-up Lyra questing to recover her dæmon Pan, who, in the fallout of their strained relationship, has deserted her to search for the imagination she has lost to adulthood. Meanwhile, Malcolm, having aged into an Indiana Jones/James Bond mashup, investigates a growing conspiracy involving the evil Magisterium and elusive existential mysteries. And, as the jacket copy says, they are not children anymore. Indeed, Pullman has left children entirely behind they're conspicuously absent, both in the book's characters and themes. Whereas earlier installments revolved around utterly earnest, naive protagonists whose innocence foiled the savagery of the greater world, we are now left to wallow in adulthood, a depressing place devoid of wonder and where for female characters the threat of sexual assault lurks around every corner. Episodic spy-thriller/political-intrigue set pieces intercut what is often a meandering rumination on philosophy, as Lyra and Malcolm separately slink through a Eurasian underworld. Alas, for His Dark Materials devotees, not a hint of middle grade remains, and teens will likely find little of interest here; reserve this for grown fans who may relish the chance to catch up with Lyra and return to her ever-expanding world.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A generation of fans is burning to reunite with Lyra for the first time since His Dark Materials, and this fall's BBC/HBO adaptation of the series will only stoke the fire.--Ronny Khuri Copyright 2019 Booklist

Guardian Review

In the second volume of the Book of Dust trilogy, Lyra is a student on the trail of a dangerous mystery, and Pullman's target is as much intolerant rationality as intolerant theism. We all get older, and so do our books. Two years ago, Philip Pullman met the challenge of returning to the world of His Dark Materials by going back in time. La Belle Sauvage, the first volume of his planned trilogy The Book of Dust, was a prequel, telling how, as a baby, Lyra Belacqua was saved from the deadly agents of the Magisterium, the authoritarian church that is always seeking to extend its powers. Her rescuer was the heroic but thoroughly human Malcolm, an 11-year-old living with his parents in a pub on the river outside Oxford. Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of The Book of Dust, Pullman does something riskier: he jumps forward 20 years - a decade on from the memorably sad, satisfyingly inevitable ending of The Amber Spyglass - to give us the story of Lyra as a young adult. Now she is a student in that familiar-yet-strange Oxford of Pullman's alternative world. (This book stays in that world and never crosses to our own.) She has become very intellectual and a little solemn and has fallen out with her daemon, Pantalaimon. But she cannot retreat into her books, as she soon realises that she remains a person of interest to the Magisterium. The book's gripping opening chapter moves between sinister machinations among leaders of the church in Geneva, and a clumsy murder in night-time Oxford. The murder victim, Lyra discovers, is a botanist - mystical botanical lore is at the heart of this tale. He had recently returned from a research trip to Central Asia where, we strongly suspect, we will eventually be led. Everyone is older. Malcolm, whose help Lyra soon recruits, has grown into an eccentric young academic with a tendresse for Lyra, his former student, that is distinctly adult. Other characters from the earlier books return, a little time-worn, to assist our heroine. As she flees the deadly theocrats, there are plenty of the thrills you might recognise from His Dark Materials, yet this is a long way from that work. "Not suitable for younger readers," warns the Waterstones website. There is graphic violence and an attempted gang rape. There is also some depiction of Lyra's awakened sexuality, though Pullman makes her seek out the company of men to whom she is not attracted, so that she cannot be unfaithful to the absent Will, forever lost to his parallel world. Pullman seems to be writing for those who read the HDM novels as children, but are children no longer. Lyra herself is naggingly conscious of what she has lost from the earlier books. Asked an awkward question by a suspicious stranger, she fails to produce the fearless lies she would once have managed, and thinks to herself that "now she just lacked inventiveness, or energy, or chutzpah". Pantalaimon tells her that she has become "cautious, anxious, pessimistic". The two of them become literally as well as psychologically separated; one plotline follows Lyra's quest to recover her daemon, without whom she appears to others as "an appalling and uncanny figure" - and also, we discover, newly vulnerable. She has had her head turned by seductive books. Her daemon goes on a long journey to Wittenberg (the city of Martin Luther, where Hamlet went to university) to accuse the stern intellectual, Gottfried Brande, of stealing Lyra's imagination from her. Brande has published a huge novel written in a prose purged of all figurative language, which proposes that daemons are illusions: it has become a vogue throughout Europe. Meanwhile Lyra journeys towards the east, while Malcolm separately tracks her. There is always plenty of dizzying travel in Pullman's fiction, here more breathless than ever. Lyra meets an alchemist in Prague, witnesses an assassination in Constantinople, narrowly avoids being killed in Smyrna. A paranoid gent at a central European railway station or a wizened old lady in a Levantine port only has to mention a distant destination for Lyra or Malcolm to hurtle off towards it. We know that the answers to the book's various teasing puzzles must lie in that fabled botanical research station (but perhaps beyond the bounds of this particular volume). Pullman's narrative method is to divide our attentions not only between Lyra, Malcolm and Pan, but also between them and the leading operatives of the Magisterium, scheming and debating about how to perpetuate their chilly faith. We keep going back to the Maison Juste in Geneva, the world centre for "the examination of heresy and heretics". Here we get a good deal of ecclesiastical power politics, with the deliciously Machiavellian Marcel Delamere eliminating rivals and concentrating power in his own hands. The satire of religious flummery is even more explicit and withering than in the original trilogy. Indeed, Pullman is more tempted to draw parallels with our world's discontents than he has ever been. Our own refugee crises and confrontations with Islamic fundamentalism (here "the brotherhood of the holy purpose") have their ready analogies in his fictional universe. Lyra is pitted against not only the agents of theocracy but also a ruthless multinational chemical company. His main target here, however, is as much intolerant rationality as intolerant theism - the life-denying Reason that William Blake, his literary guide, deplored and mocked. The Magisterium has recruited a clever nihilistic philosopher, Simon Talbot. He is their "useful idiot". Lyra so relishes intellectual dispute, "searching out the weaknesses in someone else's arguments, and cracking them open with a flourish", that she has fallen under his sway. Blake would certainly have concurred with Pullman's satire on showily rationalistic philosophy, a scepticism so complete that it deadens the soul. Thus, the importance of "the secret commonwealth", which is the world beyond rationality. Lyra begins to realise that it is what she has left behind in her childhood (and in the original His Dark Materials trilogy). "It was quite invisible to everyday vision. it was seen by the imagination, whatever that was, and not by logic." As one of the many advisers she meets tells her, its affairs sometimes "leak through into the visible world". Lyra must find her daemon again to put herself back in touch with it, to rediscover Blakean innocence. Pullman has successfully turned his heroine into an adult by making her remember herself as a child, which also means remembering the earlier books that we all loved. But there is a downside. Previously, Lyra's experiences and Pullman's ideas were separate. As a child, she did not know what her story meant. Now she can ruminate in tune with the author's purposes. "Has reason ever created a poem, or a symphony, or a painting? If rationality can't see things like the secret commonwealth, it's because rationality's vision is limited. We need to imagine as well as measure." This is Lyra thinking, but it is also rather too clearly Pullman speaking to us. Imagination, the mysterious power celebrated by the Romantic poets, is the holy spirit of this book. It opens with a contrarian epigraph from Blake: "Everything possible to be believ'd is an image of the truth." This declaration sounds permissive (you can believe whatever you like) but is in fact stern (you should listen harder to the logic of your instinctual beliefs). It is the law of fiction that Pullman obeys. He has created a fantasy world, made yet more satisfying in this new volume and pursued with his own special rigour and stylistic elegance. This is a book for getting older with.

Kirkus Review

A desert rose with mysterious properties sets off a rush.The events of The Book of Dust (2017) and the His Dark Materials series behind her, Lyra Silvertongue has grown into a rude post-teen so enthralled by the existential hyperrationalism of two popular writers that even her daemon Pantalaimon can't stand to talk to her. Believing that Lyra's imagination has been stolen, Pan braves mutual anguish to slip off to fetch it back. Meanwhile, hints of a rare Central Asian rose whose attar confers the power to see Dust arrive in Brytain, the theocratic Magisterium is poised to expand its reach under the sway of a sinister mastermind, and Malcolm Polstead, Oxford professor and secret agent, finds himself involved in ominous local eventsall adding up to multiple characters embarking on parallel journeys across Europe and onward. Pullman places his cast of white main characters in a Eurocentric world marked by rising authoritarianism, general anxiety, desperate refugees, and anonymous terrorists violently destroying rose crops in the name of a vaguely religious Holy Purpose. He skillfully weaves in deeper themes of change and of love's complexities, ruminations on the nature of evil, evidence of magical truths beneath reality's veneer, swipes at organized religion, and the powerfulif often twistedties of family. This entry, while well stocked with familiar characters in a story founded on ideas, is also not lacking in grand events and narrow squeaks.Exhilarating. (Fantasy. 14-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



Little Clarendon Street had been adopted by Oxford's jeunesse dorée as a fashionable destination. Expensive clothes shops, chic coffeehouses, cocktail bars, and colored anbaric lights strung overhead made it seem like a corner of another city altogether--Malcolm couldn't have known what made tears come to Lyra's eyes at that point, though he did notice the tears: it was her memory of the deserted Cittàgazze, all the lights blazing, empty, silent, magi­cal, where she had first met Will. She brushed them away and said nothing.   He led the way to a mock-Italian café with candles in straw-wrapped wine bottles and red-checked tablecloths and travel post­ers in splashy colors. Lyra looked around warily.   "It's safe here," Malcolm said quietly. "There are other places where it's risky to talk, but there's no danger in La Luna Caprese."   He ordered a bottle of Chianti, asking Lyra first if that was what she'd like, and she nodded.   When the wine was tried and poured, she said, "I've got to tell you something. I'll try and keep it clear in my head. And now I know about you and your dæmon, it's something I can tell you, but no one else. Only I've heard so many things in the last couple of days and my mind's in a whirl, so please, if I don't make sense, just stop me and I'll go over it again."   "Of course."   She began with Pan's experience on the Monday night, the at­tack, the murder, the man giving him the wallet to take to Lyra. Malcolm listened in astonishment, though he felt no skepticism: such things happened, as he knew well. But one thing seemed odd.   "The victim and his dæmon knew about separating?" he said.   "Yes," said Pan at Lyra's elbow. "They weren't shocked, like most people would be. In fact, they could separate too. She must have seen me up the tree when he was being attacked, and thought it would be all right to trust me, I suppose."   "So Pan brought the wallet back to me at St. Sophia's . . . ," Lyra went on.   "And that was when Asta saw me," Pan put in.   ". . . but other things got in the way, and we didn't have a chance to look at it till the next morning."   She pulled her bag up to her lap and took out the wallet, passing it to him unobtrusively. He noticed Pan's tooth marks, and no­ticed the smell too, which Pan had called cheap cologne, though it seemed to Malcolm something other than that, something wilder. He opened the wallet and took out the contents one by one as she spoke. The Bodleian card, the university staff card, the diplomatic papers, all so familiar; his own wallet had held very similar papers in its time.   "He was coming back to Oxford, I think," Lyra said, "because if you look at the laissez-passers, you can trace his journey from Sin Kiang to here. He'd probably have gone on to the Botanic Garden, if they hadn't attacked him."   Malcolm caught another faint trace of the scent on the wallet. He raised it to his nose, and something distant rang like a bell, or gleamed like the sun on a snowy mountaintop, just for the fraction of a second, and then it was gone.   "Did he say anything else, the man who was killed?"   He addressed the question to Pan, and Pan thought hard before saying, "No. He couldn't. He was nearly dead. He made me take the wallet out of his pocket and told me to take it to Lyra--I mean, he didn't know her name, but he said to take it to your . . . I think he thought we could be trusted because he knew about separating."   "Have you taken this to the police?"   "Of course. That was almost the first thing we did next morn­ing," Lyra said. "But when we were waiting in the police station, Pan heard one of the policemen speak."   "He was the first killer, the one who wasn't wounded," said Pan. "I recognized his voice. It was very distinctive."   "So we asked about something quite different and then left," Lyra went on. "We just thought we shouldn't give the wallet to the very man who'd killed him."   "Sensible," said Malcolm.   "Oh, and there's another thing. The man who was cut on the leg. He's called Benny Morris."   "How d'you know that?"   "I know someone who works at the mail depot, and I asked him if there was anyone there who'd hurt his leg. He said yes, there was a big ugly man called Benny Morris, who sounds just like the man we saw."   "And what then?"   "In the wallet," Lyra said carefully, "there was a left-luggage key--you know, the sort you get with those lockers at the station."   "What did you do with that?"   "I thought we ought to go and get whatever was in it. So--"   "Don't tell me you did ?"   "Yes. Because he'd sort of entrusted it to us, the wallet, and what was in it. So we thought we ought to go and look after it before the men who killed him realized and went to look for it themselves."   "The killers knew he had some sort of luggage," said Pan, "be­cause they kept asking each other if he'd had a bag, if he'd dropped it, were they sure they hadn't seen it, and so on. As if they'd been told to expect one."   "And what was in the locker?" said Malcolm.   "A rucksack," Lyra said. "Which is under the floorboards in my room in Jordan."   "It's there now?"   She nodded.   He picked up his glass and drained it in one, and then stood up. "Let's go and get it. While it's there, you're in great danger, Lyra, and that's no exaggeration. Come on." Excerpted from The Book of Dust: the Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Volume 2) by Philip Pullman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.