The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth, Philip Pullman; Michael Sheen, narrator (Listening Library 978-0-59310518-4, $60.00, CD, 19.75 hr., unabridged [also available as a digital download]) October 2019.
Margaret Atwood could take lessons from Pullman; this is how you write a sequel that builds on and raises the stakes of an already well-established story. His Dark Materials actually ended fairly definitively; a multi-world saga that explored the nature of love and consciousness and loss of innocence, it climaxed with the death of God and His chief angel, Metatron, as well as freeing the dead to join the consciousness of the universe. The first novel in this new series was a poetic prequel to the original three, featuring baby Lyra in the care of two children on a dangerously magical journey on the flooded Thames; that’s fairly safe territory. This book takes place both after this novel and the previous series, and goes in a far more ambitious direction, where the child heroine of the first three books faces more frightening, adult dangers. The 20-year-old Lyra is unhappy and at considerable opposition with her daemon Pantalaimon, an incarnated portion of her soul. A murder and a final argument between Lyra and Pantalaimon set the two on separate and dangerous paths, while also dragging them into a deadly plot involving a rare rose oil that fosters visions, a fabled place where daemons live by themselves, and a vengeful scheme by Lyra’s hitherto unknown uncle, who blames her for her mother’s/his sister’s death and has all the forces of the Magisterium at his disposal.
Michael Sheen, fresh off playing Aziraphale in the Good Omens miniseries and currently starring as a convincingly American-accented serial killer/criminal psychologist on Prodigal Son, is as marvelous here as he was in the first volume of The Book of Dust. He is a vocal chameleon, taking on an incredible variety of characters and accents, including various classes of English voices, as well as Welsh, Turkish, and Greek accents, among others. It’s less a narration than it is a one-man audio performance.
Sheen’s narration is gilding the lily, but the gilding is just so lovely that I advise you to go for the audio. The combo is a gorgeous and emotionally devastating experience.
This review and more like it in the January 2020 issue of Locus.
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