Twenty-year-old college undergraduate Lyra is once again thrown together with Malcom Polstead, now a professor, after Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, receive secrets from a dying man about a daemon-haunted city and the origins of Dust in the second installment of the Book of Dust series.
Pullman is a staggeringly gifted storyteller, and in The Secret Commonwealth his talents are on full display ... The novel gallops forward, full of danger, delight and surprise. Nearly miraculous, it seems, is Pullman’s ability to sketch character, place and motive in just a few lines; he has a rare ability to make us care about his creations, however far-fetched they may seem. I will not tell you of the plight of the Furnace-Man; I will tell you that you will weep when you discover it ... [a] terrific book.
Mr. Pullman is a storyteller, not a lyricist; his writing is clear, clean and forceful, never striving for effect and all the more effective because of it. He’s also a man of ideas, which gives great savor to his work even if the ideas themselves are not universally congenial ... Mr. Pullman comes across as notably less hostile than in his earlier books to the notion, if not the exact description, of a divine benevolence.
Pullman turns a shrewd eye to institutional corruption, the casual evil of complicity, the systematic subjugation of the poor and the vulnerability of women navigating a man’s world. Told through the alternating points of view of Lyra, her allies and her enemies, the novel is at once a gripping adventure story, a tense spy thriller and a dynastic political drama ... At over 600 pages, the story is neither brief nor straight to the point, but it’s well worth sinking into. It is perhaps the most overtly philosophical addition to a body of work already brimming with big ideas ... As always, Pullman’s writing is simple, unpretentious, beautiful, true. And it feels especially relevant to our times ... the author manages a delicate blossom of romance with a marvelously light touch.