About a half hour into The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman I finally exhaled. First, don’t worry, it’s wonderful. Second, I realized what was missing from my life, which is otherwise semi-crap right now, and that is Philip Pullman and his amazing world. He is calling this a ‘companion novel’ because he doesn’t like the idea of a prequel, but it takes place about ten years before his original trilogy timeline. For the uninitiated (and honestly, what?), the trilogy is called His Dark Materials and the books are The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass and they are a masterpiece. The Book of Dust will be a trilogy as well, and we are officially on our way.
La Belle Sauvage takes place mostly in Oxford, England where an eleven-year-old boy, Malcolm Polstead, lives with his parents at the Trout Inn along the River Thames. Malcolm is honestly wonderful, he is smart and curious and exactly age appropriate and not even a little bit annoying. I loved him and his daemon Asta. Across the river from the pub, which Malcolm crosses using his canoe called La Belle Sauvage, is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live and where they have recently received a new resident, an infant child named Lyra Belacqua. Yes, THE Lyra Belaqua. The same Lyra that we now know spends her childhood under scholastic sanctuary at Jordan College. We know that Lyra will later fulfill a heretical prophecy, so we also know that she is wanted by numerous groups of people who would love for that to not happen.
So we know that Lyra will be okay, which helps with the nerves because the pacing of this book is quick and suspenseful. The supporting characters are perfect, and this novel focuses less on religion and more on a sort of fairy tale take. There is a fierce biblical type flood, we learn about Dust and more about alethiometers and it’s near constant fun. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait for the next one, which is rumored to take place later in Lyra’s life. I may just spend December going back into the original trilogy. Bonus points for the Audible version with Michael Sheen as narrator – he is fantastic. I am coming at this from a fan’s perspective, already in love with Pullman’s universe, but I think there is no reason a newbie couldn’t step right in.
The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage – Grade A