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Image of book cover for Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

OMG! The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

– Posted in: Fantasy Book Reviews

YES, I’M A PULLMAN FAN GIRL

I read The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK) way back in 1995 and fell in love with Philip Pullman’s characters and his world.

About a year ago, I heard he was writing another trilogy set in the same world, a prequel. Excited is too mild a word for my enthusiasm.

AMAZON SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF DUST: LA BELLE SAUVAGE

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 parents run an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his daemon, 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, he sees suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. 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.

My Response

The Washington Post sums it up nicely: “Too few things in our world are worth a seventeen year wait: The Book of Dust is one of them.”

First of all, this is a prequel to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and second, if you haven’t read the trilogy don’t worry because the story stands on its own.

If you have read the trilogy, the fun part is stepping back into this wonderful, complex world and encountering new and old characters. The story begins when Lyra, the protagonist of the other books, is an infant. So, I’m assuming we are going to get all or part of her story. More importantly we have two new protagonists who manage to get into more than their fair share of trouble.

There’s plenty of mystery, intrigue, and villainous villains. And, yes, lurking around every corner are some pretty sinister plots, which our new hero Malcolm Polstead runs into and away from. Dust raises its ugly head again. Malcolm doesn’t have a clear grasp of what the adults are going on about. If you’ve read the previous books, you know! The plot, which I don’t want to give away, is relevant and timely in our current world.

PROS:

  • Pullman’s world is the number one thing that felt immediate familiar. We’ve got daemons, witches, Gyptians, and of course Dust! It was fun when characters I knew showed up.
  • Like His Dark Materials, this books seems to be a YA book, but at it’s heart are adult themes, ideas, and problems seen from the view of young teens.
  • Malcolm: at first I wasn’t impressed with him. Unlike Lyra, who was a barbarian, liar, and manipulator, Malcolm is just a nice kid who doesn’t seem like a hero in waiting. I was completely wrong. He might be quiet, but he’s got guts a plenty. He does the right thing, the hard thing, and the galant thing. By the end of the book, he’s lost his wide-eyed innocence and has become a beloved character, who is every bit as awesome as Lyra, who he is protecting.
  • Like any good book, Pullman uses fantasy to let us glimpse our world from a different perspective.
  • There was plenty of creepy stuff going on, like children spying on children and teachers and evil organizations lurking in the background. The reader gets to witness the beginnings of the darkness we encountered in His Dark Materials. Don’t get me wrong, what happens in this story is every bit a disturbing and evil as what comes later. Sorry to be vague. I’m trying to do this without spoilers.
  • There’s lots of foreshadowing of the of things to come. I’m looking forward to the next book.

CONS:

I don’t really have much as far as cons. Remember I’m a fan girl!

  • While reading, I thought the beginning was slow. In hindsight, I think my expectations tripped me up. Looking back I think the story unfolded at a good pace that a reader got a sense of the story story would.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend this book. If you haven’t read Pullman, this might be a good place to start. Pullman isn’t religious and like His Dark Materials, he doesn’t shy away from shining a cirtical light on religion. If this bothers bothers you, you might want to pass on this book. If you have read Pullman, you know what to expect.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Pullman is an English author. He taught middle school (1970-1986) and wrote plays. In 1986, he left middle school to teach part time at Westminster College, Oxford and to write.

John Milton’s Paradise Lost has influenced him. That influence is clearly seen in His Dark Materials trilogy. He has won many awards and accolades for his work. The Amber Spyglass won both both Whitbread Prize for best children’s book and the Whitbread Book of the Year, the first children’s book to receive that award.

Pullman has received criticism from the Christian church as being anti-religious. He has also been praised by religious leaders. For example, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

THE USUAL REMINDER

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