Serpentine: His Dark Materials

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Serpentine: His Dark Materials Book Poster Image
Short gift book with lovely art is meant for series fans.

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Educational Value

This story is a bridge from one series -- His Dark Materials -- to another -- The Book of Dust. It provides much foreshadowing for the second Book of Dust, The Secret Commonwealth. Readers can ponder how such a compact story achieves this.

Positive Messages

Emphasizes the importance of compassionate communication (even with ourselves) and knowing when to ask for advice.

Positive Role Models

Lyra is a resourceful and deep-thinking character. She handles a conflict with her daemon after they go through a trauma first by asking for advice and then by being open and truthful about her feelings.


Just mentions of Lyra getting separated from her daemon in The Amber Spyglass, which is painful physically and mentally, and her daemon almost falling down a waterfall at the time.


A mention that a man is the lover of a witch.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A mention of a polar bear's heavy drinking in the past.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Serpentine is a short gift book with many black-and-white illustrations that author Philip Pullman wrote for a fundraising auction in 2004 and published for the first time in 2020. It takes place after The Amber Spyglass, the last book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and is a good lead-in to the second Book of Dust, The Secret Commonwealth. His Dark Materials is also an HBO-made TV series. Serpentine is just a few scenes (which is why it's a purchase only big Philip Pullman fans will feel is worthwhile) and it touches on a major conflict in The Secret Commonwealth. There are some quick mentions about a drunk polar bear and man who takes a witch as his lover and discussion of how traumatic it was when Lyra was separated from her daemon, Pan (because it's part of herself). Lyra and Pan finally talk about the trauma and find a way to communicate more compassionately.

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What's the story?

In SERPENTINE, Lyra visits the consul to the clans of witches while on an archeological dig in the northern lands. Dr. Lanselius invites her in and Lyra waits for her daemon, Pantalaimon, to explore the yard before she asks the consul what has been bothering her. She's worried about her connection with Pan after they were separated in the world of the dead. Dr. Lanselius tells her how the witches, who separate from their daemons on purpose, deal with this trauma. On a truck ride back to the dig site, Lyra and Pan finally open up to each other about what happened.

Is it any good?

If you're looking for a gift for a true Philip Pullman fan, you've found it, but if you're just a casual fan, you can read this in the aisles of a book store in about fifteen minutes. The black-and-white illustrations by Tom Duxbury evoke a lovely melancholy mood that matches the tone of the brief story itself. In only a few scenes you grasp what Lyra is coping with after she and her daemon had to separate in the world of the dead at the end of The Amber Spyglass. It foreshadows the deeper themes of the second Book of Dust, The Secret Commonwealth.

What will be fascinating to fans is that Pullman wrote this in 2004 when he hadn't even planned on writing the Book of Dust series. It was already somewhere in his head and perhaps this small volume was a catalyst to bring it forward into his consciousness. That idea alone makes Serpentine a worthy endeavor.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about who Serpentine is meant for. It was comissioned for an auction and now it's on sale to the public. It takes a large fan base to sell such books, and author Philip Pullman has one. What other books are sold specifically to series fans?

  • Do you read other novellas or short stories from your favorite authors and series? Many authors offer their shorter stories online, sometimes for a limited time. Why do you think they do that?

  • Would you read more about Lyra during this time in her life? What do you think the author left unexplored?

Book details

  • Author: Philip Pullman
  • Illustrator: Tom Duxbury
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Topics: Magic and Fantasy
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publication date: October 15, 2020
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
  • Number of pages: 80
  • Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: October 26, 2020

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