The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

It’s hard to believe that I was only 12 when the last book was published in 2000. I didn’t read them when they were first released, and instead stumbled upon them around 2 years after the last one, when I was around 14. It came around the time when I was massively into Harry Potter, and with similar fantasy elements I inevitably ended up reading them all back to back. (TRIGGER WARNING and SPOILERS)

Cue 17 years later when this newest offering is released, I have to admit I did have my doubts. With the original trilogy deeply rooted in nostalgia for my childhood, I was dubious to read anything else with the worry that it may upset the fond memories I had of the originals. This is the same reason I didn’t read Go Set a Watchman straight away, or Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining. Any book that follows up a beloved original just serves to remind me that in today’s day and age, marketability and profit outweigh the ability to tell a good story, and I inevitably end up disappointed.

However, curiosity piqued and I couldn’t help setting aside my skepticism in favour of picking up a copy to take on holiday with me, at the end of October.

On the whole, I think this book digs up my past memories of the original trilogy very well.  Whilst Phillip Pullman manages with great success to capture the magic and wonder of the original story, he does so without stepping on the toes of the originals. The characters are different yet familiar at the same time, and whilst this is an honest to God stand alone new Trilogy – it does feel very much like a part of the original series.

Set around 10 years before Northern Lights, the main protagonist Malcolm Polstead is curious and intelligent, who finds himself forced to protect baby Lyra from the many threats that face her.

Fans of the original series will be more attuned to the references throughout the books; alethiometers, daemons, the Magesterium and Gyptians all make an appearance, but I wouldn’t say it was an absolute necessity to have read the original books before picking up La Belle Sauvage.

What I liked:
1. Baby Daemons – I can’t say I’d given it much thought about what a person’s daemon was like when they’re a baby, but tiny Pantalaimon is adorable, with Baby Lyra just as cute.

2. Alice – She was the most real out of all the characters; she’s feisty, has hang ups about her looks, and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. I also enjoyed her vulnerability, too; she was someone I felt I could identify with, maybe even more than Malcolm himself.

3. The main antagonist, Bonneville – He was very much a ‘real world’ villain of the entire novel, and on the whole a more sadistic monster than the glamorous Mrs. Coulter from the previous books. His predatory ways (with sexual assault implicitly implied) are very much in tone with the recent avalanche of women coming forward with their experiences of sexual assault in a range of industries, and it just cements the idea that our own world is full of men like Bonneville.

What I didn’t like:
1. This novel is a little bit slow to begin with. The first third of the book basically established the character of Malcolm, and his ascent into the complicated plot surrounding Oakley Street, Bonneville and the Nuns looking after baby Lyra. Whilst die-hard fans may be a little more patient as we know where this is going, completely new readers may struggle to maintain their interest.

2. The obviously dark tones present in the book – I mean, obviously His Dark Materials contains some controversial topics surrounding religion, but as it was so magical I overlooked it all. In this book there are references to rape and sexual assault, strong language, murder etc that can be quite triggering to some people. I’m not easily shocked by things, but considering these books are read by children it needs to be mentioned.

3. Bonneville – Whilst I did like his outward villainy, I sometimes struggled to see the point of it all. It seemed to me he had multiple motivations for his actions, but nothing was clearly explained. I don’t know if he plays a role in the next book (Might be difficult when you consider what happened to him…) but sometimes I didn’t see the point with what he was doing.

Whilst a slow burner to begin with, the second half was a lot more adventurous and had the  darkness that was present in the original trilogy. To me this is a classic Pullman novel, and I was completely hooked from page to page. Whilst there may have been a few plot holes, the writing was typically Pullman, and therefore, perfection. It was a complete pleasure to be back in the world of daemons, alethiometers and pseudo religious mystery, and I cannot wait to read the next installment.

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