The Book of Dust vol 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (Books 2019, 22)

You shouldn’t read this book.

Yet.

I broke a personal rule, that goes back to 1982: Never start reading a fantasy series if the final volume hasn’t been published.1 1982 was the year I was reading Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The fifth volume (or second volume of the second series) was out, but the sixth and final wasn’t.2 I waited on tenterhooks.3 Eventually the hardback came out, but it was much too expensive for a poor student like me. Luckily, not for another poor student on my corridor, who lent it to me.

I learnt my lesson, back then. More or less: I was reading Harry Potter while it was still being written. But this is one of the main reasons why I never started A Game of Thrones, for example.

But here we are. Two-thirds of the way in to a compelling, thrilling story… actually that’s not quite right, what with the first volume being prequel. More like halfway through a very long story, and all I can say is… not very much without going into massive spoilers.

I like that Lyra is using Silvertongue as her surname: a name she was given, that she earned. There are aspects of the world, of Lyra’s relationship to it, that are surprising, given what she went through in His Dark Materials. But then, it is eight years later, and she has grown up a lot.

Politics and events in the world of the Magisterium sometimes parallel those in our world.

It’s a lot darker and more adult-themed than the original trilogy. I don’t know if whole will end up being as legendary or as moving as the original, of course, but at this point, balanced on the fulcrum of change, I like it almost as much.

I lied at the the start: you should read this book. But be prepared for the fact that we might have to wait two years for the conclusion.


  1. At a pinch, if the author hasn’t finished writing it. 
  2. White Gold Weilder was released in 1983, I see. And I gather that he’s since written a third trilogy, but… nah. 
  3. Well, maybe about five or sixterhooks. 

His Dark Materials on TV

Minor spoilers ahead.

I am loving what they’re doing with HDM1 in the BBC/HBO adaptation. It has just enough variation from the books to keep it interesting (especially since I re-read them recently). Yet it manages not to distort the story in the way that so upset my then-ten-year-old son in the film version of (part of) the first book.

Bringing in the scenes of Lord Boreal crossing to “our” Oxford, and finding out about who Grumman is, is inspired. It will have the effect of making more sense of the inciting incident for Will, when he turns up. In the book it was never entirely clear who the people who searched his house were sent by, and why the authorities were interested in him. This way, it will.

I’m looking forward to next week’s arrival of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby.2 And we’ll get Iorek Byrnison, too. That’ll be a big test of the CGI.

Which leads me to the only thing that slightly lets it down: Pantalaimon’s default form as an ermine. It looks a little too fake and plasticky to me. Most of the other daemons look fine, so I don’t know why the lead one should be so poor. Maybe it’s because he’s the only one that gets much screen time where he talks.

On that note, two points about Mrs Coulter’s daemon, one which struck me on my recent reread, and the other just tonight. We never learn its name. Nearly every other daemon that gets a mention, gets a name. And it never speaks. Certainly not so far in the TV version, and I’m fairly sure it never does in the books, either.

Which no doubt tells us something about the character of the woman.


  1. As I imagine no-one calls it. 
  2. Pity it isn’t a singing part. 

Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (Books 2019, 18, 19 & 20)

His Dark Materials, as I said.

Holy hell, this trilogy is good! I think I’d forgotten just how good it is.

In the first book we meet Lyra, a wild orphan who lives in fabled Jordan College in a parallel Oxford. Plots and adventures quickly ensue.

The second volume starts with Will, a boy who lives in our world, and who has to run from his home because he has killed someone. How will his story connect to Lyra’s?

And the third builds on everything that has gone before, and a whole lot more.

There are armoured bears, angels, daemons, airships, witches, harpies, the dead, and much else. The fate of worlds hangs in the balance.

If you haven’t read it, you should. You could start watching the TV series instead, but I expect there’ll be a long wait between the seasons, and the books are right there.

Of course, I’m going to find myself in a similar position with the sequels. It was eighteen months ago that I read part 1, so presumably we won’t get the conclusion till some time in 2021.

I like what they’re doing with the TV series so far. Enough changes to keep it interesting, not enough to spoil it.

On Pausing Stories

Almost exactly a year ago I started reading a novel, then put it on hold. This year I’ve done the same, for different reasons.

I started The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers in October of last year. I quickly put it aside as November approached. I realised that it — or at least its start — was much too similar to the novel that I planned to start for NaNoWriMo.

I haven’t got back to it yet.

This year it was the new Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust vol 2: The Secret Commonwealth

Now, you’ll recall that I said I might do this after I read the first of the new trilogy. Other things got in the way of that, though.

So I read a chapter or two of the new one, and realised I needed to refresh my memories. There’s a whole thing that we learn about at once that I don’t remember. Or at least don’t remember how it happened.

There’s also a TV series coming. I was aware it was in development, but not of how soon it was going to be. Turns out it’ll be on in a week or two.

So now I’m worried that watching it is going to be a bit like the recent Good Omens series was for me; really well done, I appreciated it… but I had re-read the book too soon before watching it, meaning it was all just a bit too recent in my memory for maximum enjoyment. But we’ll cross that ice bridge to another world when we come it it. The trailers look great, anyway.

The difference with this year’s pause will be that, while I will get back to the Chambers eventually, I’m obviously not in any hurry to do so. Whereas I fully expect to restart The Secret Commonwealth as soon as I’ve recovered from the ending of The Amber Spyglass. Which I’ll probably be starting quite soon.