La Belle Sauvage is the first entry of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, The Book of Dust, and takes us back to this fantastical world he created.
Philip Pullman said that The Book of Dust was not a prequel of His Dark Materials, that it was an “equel”, set before, during and after it. But, La Belle Sauvage definitely IS a prequel. It tells us more of Lyra’s story, without her being the main character -she’s a baby not even one year old-, albeit being a central character. It tells us the story of how she got into Jordan College, where we encountered her for the first time in His Dark Materials.
La Belle Sauvage happens about 11 years before His Dark Materials, and the whole story takes part throughout a number of days, a couple of weeks at most. It starts slow (somehow idyllic you might say), back in the ‘alternate-world’ Oxford, and builds the story as the rain starts to fall.
At the beginning, we get to know Malcolm, his daily life in school, the Trout (his father’s tavern), helping in the monastery, meeting Lyra for the first time, and then being witness of a strange event that leads him to meet Dr. Relf. We come across some characters which we’ll remember from His Dark Materials, and from the start, we find intrigue in many parts, although generally exactly where we’d expect it.
But the tone and the story start to turn darker as the rain comes. And with it, dark and evil characters accompanied by the flood.
Malcolm and Alice are forced to set out on a trip -equally exciting, terrifying and dangerous-, to safely return Lyra to her father, Lord Asriel. They are searched by the CCD (Consistorial Court of Discipline), followed by the crazy and dangerous Gerard Bonneville (a truly terrifying and fascinatingly perverse figure) and his three-legged hyena dæmon. They encounter a fairy queen, a witch queen (whom we remember from His Dark Materials), and are betrayed by the most unsuspecting characters and all of this while travelling on a small canoe from Oxford to London on the biggest flood in the history.
What’s it about? – Synopsis
Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…
Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.
What did I think about La Belle Sauvage?
All in all I personally really enjoyed it. As mentioned above, the beginning of the story is slow, which at some point felt more like setting the scene took too long, but it does get better and darker as the story progresses, even thrilling throughout the second half.
Malcolm and Alice are two great characters. They are so different from each other, and at the same time they’re just what the other needs and/or is missing. Alice is kinda feisty, but throughout the story shows her strength and tenacity, as well as her vulnerability at times. And Malcolm is sweet and kind-hearted, strong, intelligent and decided.
Pullman is known to include some controversial topics in his works, and La Belle Sauvage is no exception, but it is true that there are points which might seem excessive to some, and even be qualified as non-children friendly. An example is the story about St. Alexander, and having a group of Christians go to the schools and tell the kids a story about how he, as a kid, told on his parents for not being Christian, getting them hung, and then being made a saint for this. We know Pullman has his beef with religion, but maybe this could have been told differently.
There are also instances of rape, strong language, murder, and a weird scene with attempted baby theft and naked breast feeding that can appear mildly disturbing. This is, after all, supposed to be a children’s book, isn’t it?
On the other hand, it’s easy to see that La Belle Sauvage is written for children because you get slightly more condensed characters as you would usually with this genre, where they are not yet wholly fleshed out but made “simple”.
One last point I want to mention is that I find it amazing how Pullman achieves it to cram so many events into such a relatively simple thing as getting Lyra from one town during a flood to the next. All in all some might say that nothing happened. But in reality, so much happened.
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (Book of Dust Vol.1)
Book Title: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (Book of Dust Vol.1)
Book Description: The first entry of Philip Pullman's new trilogy, The Book of Dust, takes us back to this fantastical world he created. It tells us the story of how she got into Jordan College, where we encountered her for the first time in His Dark Materials.
Book Author: Philip Pullman
Book Format: Paperback
Date published: 19 October, 2017
Number Of Pages: 570