This short story returns us to the world of Lyra Silvertongue from Philip Pullman’s world of His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust. Serpentine is for completionists only. Anyone who hasn't read the His Dark Materials trilogy will have no idea what this book is about. Chronologically, it occurs a year after the events in Lyra's Oxford, another short story which takes place between Lyra’s return to Oxford at the end of The Amber Spyglass and before the events in The Secret Commonwealth. It was originally written for a fundraising gala for the National Theatre, with the handwritten manuscript auctioned in 2004.
There isn’t really any plot in this story, nor any action. It’s basically provides some background as to what happened to Lyra and Pan at the end of His Dark Materials, leading to the next trilogy. It gives us a brief look into what is on Lyra’s mind and hints at what may come in The Secret Commonwealth. There is an issue which is an important part of The Secret Commonwealth, an outcome that even the possibility of happening is not hinted at in the original trilogy, concerning the relationship between a person and their daemon (I’m trying not to give away spoilers here). This is obviously explored in much more detail in The Secret Commonwealth, but this little tale provides an earlier mention of it. Pullman says at the end of the book that he wrote this story many years before he thought of returning to Lyra’s world for another trilogy, so it’s interesting to see that his mind had already turned to considering this aspect of the world.
This is the fourth of the ancillary short stories of Pullman’s I have read. This one and The Collectors are both very short, while the first two (Lyra's Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North) are relatively longer. However, one thing this volume offers in comparison to the two longer stories is beautiful illustrations, done by Tom Duxbury. Almost every page has a drawing, all them produced in a black and white, lino-cut style. These drawings added to my enjoyment of the story with their stark beauty.
This book is recommended for anyone who has finished The Secret Commonwealth and is anxiously waiting for the final volume in The Book of Dust trilogy. Or for anyone who loved the original trilogy and wants another tale featuring Lyra and Pan. I would have liked it to be a little longer, but then, I'm one of those people anxiously waiting for the next book!