A rich, creamy mug of hot chocolate.
I fell in love with Lyra, Pantalaimon, and their adventures in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy when I was 12 years old. Thankfully at the time, neither I or my parents realized the series was about killing God, or else I would probably not have read it! I have read the series at least five times since then and each time I never fail to glean some new nuance or insight from the text (Damn! that Philip Pullman is a genius!!).
Therefore, when La Belle Sauvage, the first in The Book of Dust trilogy, was announced I knew I had to break my “not buying books” rule and immediately ordered a first edition hardback. As you might expect, I’m a big library person.
As The Book of Dust is a prequel companion to His Dark Materials you don’t need to have read His Dark Materials in order to make sense of things. If you have read it however, you will recognize several characters and I for one, appreciated the fresh perspective.
And everywhere they went, something went with them, behind, just beyond the edge of eyesight, something that flickered and vanished and then appeared again when they looked at something else. They both saw it.
― Philip Pullman
The Book of Dust follows Malcolm Polstead and frenemy Alice Parslow as they endure the attentions of a sinister state organization, a madman with a horrendous daemon, magic, and the fury of nature unleashed. Pullman definitely took his time with this one. The really exciting bits don’t come along until halfway through the book. To me, it felt like the purpose of the first half was to give additional context to His Dark Materials. The reader learns more about the early research done on Dust and how the Magisterium gained power, among other things.
Some readers may find this slow, but I quite enjoyed wading through this backstory made flesh – er, paper. Pullman’s mastery of language remains intoxicating – something to be savored.
Words belong in contexts, not pegged out like biological specimens.
― Philip Pullman
My main critique of the book is Malcolm. As an 11 year old boy he should be insufferable, but he’s just so damn responsible. The word stolid comes to mind. He is the type of 11 year old I would love to hang out with, which tells me he is an impossible character. The boy just doesn’t seem to have any flaws. After school and working at his parent’s pub, he likes to go out in his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage, and visit a local professor/alethiometer scholar to discuss books!
Despite Malcolm’s lack of personality flaws, La Belle Sauvage is classic Pullman – full of adventure, whimsy, and mystery. More, please!