Skip to main content

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1)

Review

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1)

I want to start this review by saying that this is easily one of the most emotional pieces I have ever written. I first discovered Philip Pullman’s work when I was only 10-years-old and I raced through the entire His Dark Materials series in a single summer. The books were with me in the pool, in the car and in bed, and I have reread them every winter since. In other words, I have literally been waiting 17 years for THE BOOK OF DUST and now that it is here, I am practically speechless.

Like any reader who has waited over a decade for a book, I had my worries when I went into THE BOOK OF DUST. Could Pullman reignite the same passion that I felt when I read HDM as a child? Would the book live up to the hype? Would Dust, that highly complicated and elusive substance finally be explained?

The answers, of course, are yes, yes, and yes. Neither a prequel nor a sequel, LA BELLE SAUVAGE acts as the first volume in a series of “equel” novels that both flesh out iconic Lyra’s life and provide some much-needed information about Dust, the Magisterium and Lyra’s Oxford.

"With LA BELLE SAUVAGE, Pullman has reestablished himself as a premiere writer for the young, old and everyone in between....I am more than ready to make room in my heart for Malcolm Polstead...."

At the heart of LA BELLE SAUVAGE is young Malcolm Polstead, a young boy who divides his time between his father’s inn and tavern and the nunnery across the river. A conservative church has recently taken control and adult readers will easily pick up on the tensions present amongst the older characters. Malcolm hears and sees all as he shuffles between customers and nuns, but as a child, he is often unable to grasp the deeper meanings behind the politics of the world.

When we meet Malcolm, he is dreaming of one day becoming a scholar. One night, he is questioned by three mysterious men who dine in a private room at the inn. Although he finds their questions innocent, his daemon explains that they were testing him and the plot quickly takes off.

The reason the men were questioning Malcolm was to find a suitable place to hide an infant…an infant who will one day grow up to become the young heroine readers first met in THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Lyra soon takes up residence at the nunnery and Malcolm quickly finds himself head over heels for her, calling himself her “servant for life.” Before long, rising tensions put Malcolm (and Lyra) in a very vulnerable position, with Malcolm falling in with a group of rogue scholars set on fighting the church with the help of a certain golden device called the alethiomter (is your heart pounding yet?). Malcolm’s escapades with these scholars draw him close to several memorable characters such as Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter, the gypsy Farder Coram and the witches.

When the tensions reach a breaking point, Malcolm, baby Lyra and a bitter girl named Alice are forced to escape on his canoe, a boat called La Belle Sauvage. Fighting rising waters and terrible storms, the children are also pursued by a horrific, demonic villain named George Bonneville. Do not let his name fool you --- George is easily the most disgusting, appallingly wicked villains I have ever seen in children’s or adult literature.

At the risk of spoiling the remainder of plot, I will leave off here, but know that LA BELLE SAUVAGE will definitely leave any reader (even those who have not yet read HDM) eager for more. Pullman has proven that he is not only able to re-immerse himself in Lyra’s world, but perhaps expand upon it in a way that will attract new readers worldwide.

The strength of Pullman’s writing, as always, is his ability to show both sides of a story at once --- subtly, seamlessly and with great respect to his readers. Additionally, Pullman’s characters are not only raw and believable, but multi-layered and unique. The stars of his books, the children, are so much smarter and purer than their adult counterparts, and Pullman makes it clear that it really is the children who are our future.

Of course, no review of Pullman’s work would be complete without mentioning his subtle (and not-so-subtle) jabs at organized religion, but do not let these turn you away if you are a person of faith. Pullman’s target is not any specific church, but rather the corruptions and brutal indoctrinations that are allowed to occur within organized religions. These elements are subtle enough to go over some young readers’ heads, but this makes the story no less enjoyable or poignant.

With LA BELLE SAUVAGE, Pullman has reestablished himself as a premiere writer for the young, old and everyone in between. I know that I am not alone when I say that I am more than ready to make room in my heart for Malcolm Polstead, and I look forward to seeing where Pullman takes him next.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on November 2, 2017

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1)
by Philip Pullman

  • Publication Date: October 19, 2017
  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375815309
  • ISBN-13: 9780375815300