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SERPENTINE by Philip Pullman


From the His Dark Materials series

by Philip Pullman ; illustrated by Tom Duxbury

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-593-37768-0
Publisher: Knopf

In an episode set shortly after the end of The Amber Spyglass (2000), Pullman sends Lyra Silvertongue back to the town of Trollesund for an illuminating chat.

Originally written for a charity fundraiser in 2004 and dusted off at last for general release, the brief tale is extended by a surfeit of somber black-and-white prints that, with help from wide line leading and spacious margins, bring the compact volume’s page count to a respectable level. The quickly told story feels tucked in amid views of remote figures and empty streets, mingling with straight filler and pictures of sinuous daemons and people with distant expressions posed in various static configurations. It’s built around a conversation between Lyra and the enigmatic Dr. Lanselius, consul for the witch clans, in which Lyra wrestles with how the knowledge that she and Pan can separate and have experiences of their own may come to change their relationship. As the author points out in his afterword, just such a profound change plays a prominent role in The Secret Commonwealth (2019)…and so Lyra’s troubled reach for understanding here prefigured it. If this catches Pullman in a ruminative mood, unlike the earlier spinoff Once Upon a Time in the North (2008), illustrated by John Lawrence, which is an action-oriented minimasterpiece, still there are references aplenty to past events and lively interchanges between Pan and Lyra to keep less-introspective fans from flagging.

Pullman in any mood is worth catching, though this is about as slight as he gets.

(Fantasy. 9-12)