Trigger warnings (!!!): sexual assault, attempted gang rape
One out of five stars.
I’m just not okay with the accumulated wrongs of this book. Like of having Malcolm, a scholar in his thirties who both rescued Lyra from a flood as a baby, watched her sucking a fairy’s titty and tried to tutor her, declaring his romantic love for Lyra, now twenty. If not the age-gap is the problem, it is how the author having full control of how the last book and the past series has been told, is still angling it this way claiming it to be true love. Even worse is the very graphically written sexual assault of Lyra by a group of soldiers towards the end of the book, which explicitly states she had no way of getting out of no matter how hard she fought. Or the words afterwards from another “safer” guard: “‘Wear a niqab’, he said. ‘It will help’.” I forgot to mention the assault happened the moment she was on a train headed for this world’s Aleppo, which makes it worse.
There’s also on other levels some weirdly written scenes. For example, Lyra is on a boat which saves refugees from drowning after their boat is destroyed, in a very real-world drawn upon scenario. Lyra is told to take care of a younger girl rescued from the water, for the night. And it’s quickly turned into parallells between Lyra being rescued as a baby and the girl, at the very least it is used as an instant personal development tool and even Lyra claiming she will never forget the comfort she got from the refugee girl and her daemon. Malcolm also stops a religious coup in one swift, badly planned assassin act of going from a hostage to killing the leader and escaping as if he was a ghost. Because it’s that easy right? Also Lyra secretly enjoys being catcalled – no, I don’t know why that’s included either.
There’s a few good things in this book, at the beginning. I’m just going to write them all out here to retain some of the magic of Lyra’s world that I’ve grown up loving, even though debates of logic vs magic gets lost in the sexism and racism. Good things: Lyra never quite letting Will go in a very believable way. The protective circle around Lyra becoming more obvious and political. New, somewhat interesting way of reading the alethiometer. The storyline of complete rationality and logic vs magic. The magic of the commonwealth and the stories told by the gyptian. Dr. Crane taking care of Lyra and how heart-wrenching Lyra being kicked out from the College was, as the only home she’s known in one of the more relatable changes in a young adult’s life.
I just turned 23 years old, but I still find myself wondering if I’ve become old & grumpy when I get annoyed at books for things I see as really damaging that no one else seem to pick up on. But then I remember I didn’t pick up on it when I read my first “adult” books either. I’ve loved Pullman’s books for so many years, yet I agreed with the change of tone from His Dark Materials to The Book of Dust. Reading The Secret Commonwealth though, I just found myself constantly wondering why the choice of narrative had taken the wrong turn and just how much misogynism Pullman can write into his work now that Lyra has become “a woman” and no longer a pure girl, which is a character he again here proves he can write with much more grace.
Lyra has on every turn of this book lost all sense of agency as a person because she is now a young woman. This is not showcasing what a woman goes through in a realistic manner the way Pullman seem to think it is. I’m not reading the next one.