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

La Belle Sauvage CoverLa Belle Sauvage is a 2017 children’s fantasy novel written by Philip Pullman, and the first in The Book of Dust trilogy, a companion series to Pullman’s prior series, His Dark Materials. La Belle Sauvage is set before the events of His Dark Materials, and tells the story of Malcolm Polstead, a young boy working at his parents’ inn, who becomes a spy for a mysterious secret society that opposes the Magisterium and which has just arranged for the six-month-old Lyra to be brought to the priory across the river from the Polsteads’ inn.

I always find myself apprehensive when reading new books to series that I love. Since His Dark Materials is one of my all-time favourite series (you can read my review of it here), the apprehension that I felt picking up this book was quite considerable. At the same time, I knew I would never even imagine leaving it un-read–Pullman’s novels have yet to let me down, and despite my apprehensions that I might be wrong, I was very much hopeful that I would love La Belle Sauvage. And love it I did.

The first thing that has to be mentioned is the writing. Pullman’s writing is just as strong here as it was in His Dark Materials. Pullman is simply a master story-teller, and from the first paragraphs you already get the feeling that you can trust him utterly to take you on a satisfying and magical journey.

The second thing that I noticed about this novel was that, despite it being set before the events of His Dark Materials, it really works best as a follow-up to that series. His Dark Materials begins by being quite tightly focused on Lyra, but by the end of the series, both the reader and Lyra have come to know the wider world much better: what Dust is, what the Magisterium are like, etcetera. Rather than beginning from a point of ignorance, La Belle Sauvage continues where His Dark Materials left off, investigating the same questions that the end of the series did, and adding to our understanding of them. This made the book highly satisfying for me to read (as someone who has read the original trilogy), but does lead me to strongly suggest that readers do not start with this trilogy.

What needs to be mentioned next are the characters. All of the central characters introduced here (mostnotably, Malcolm and Alice) are strong and capable, yet always human and flawed. They are so real that they jump out from the page and come to live with you. Moreover, the relationship between Malcolm and Alice is developed wonderfully and realistically, and I sincerely hope that I get to read more about them.

Finally, the plot of the novel, which is exciting, mysterious, and so engrossing that the pages don’t turn fast enough.

I don’t have anything bad to say about this novel, and I don’t have the words to express how much I love this novel. It is a wonderful follow-up to His Dark Materials, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t pick this book up.

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