Title: La Belle Sauvage
Author: Philip Pullman
Series: The Book of Dust, #1
Publisher: David Flickling Books
Release Date: October 19th 2017
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 father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, 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, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; 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 dæmon. 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 chocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
Malcolm spends most of his time helping out at the Trout, the inn on the banks of the river Thames his parents own, and as a boy who notices a lot more than he is noticed he picks up a lot from the people he sees walk through the doors. One day, while out on his canoe with his dæmon Asta, Malcolm finds a secret message hidden in an acorn talking about something new, something very dangerous and forbidden, Dust.
The first volume in The Book of Dust trilogy takes us back to Lyra’s world but before she ventured to Svalbard after Lord Asriel, before she and her dæmon journeyed into new worlds and changed them all. I know a lot of people were disappointed this first volume didn’t focus on Lyra and expand on her story more, but I quite enjoyed meeting these new characters. Also, despite Lyra only being a baby in La Belle Sauvage, we did see a lot of her in this book as the first volume expanded on her background.
His ability to go unnoticed makes Malcolm the perfect spy, and there are plenty of interesting people wandering through the doors of the inn with their own hidden agendas, all asking after the same thing; the baby girl who is now in the care of the nuns across the river. Malcolm is determined to keep Lyra safe, but one night in the middle of a winter where the rain never seems to end a flood sweeps Malcolm, Lyra and Alice away, and they have to fight to stay ahead of the man chasing them who wants Lyra dead.
It took me a while to get into this book, not because of the new characters we were introduced to though. Philip Pullman has written La Belle Sauvage in a third person, omnipresent POV which made it hard to connect with Malcolm when I knew more than he did at any one time. However despite it being slow going I did eventually get into the story, and I was hooked. I wouldn’t say La Belle Sauvage is a fast-paced and action-filled read, but it’s an enchanting story full of new magic to explore but plenty of danger to keep me invested in Malcolm’s story.
Malcolm is a very different character to Lyra and Will. He is quiet and unassuming but there’s something about him that makes people open up around him. They seem to forget he’s there in the background and continue with their conversations, and Malcolm is quick to pick up on the rumours and intrigue he hears. Malcolm is a smart character, but it’s a cautious kind of smart; he heeds other peoples’ warnings and where others may have disregarded them Malcolm is already prepared for the worst.
The nuns who are looking after Lyra live across the river Thames from Malcolm’s parents’ inn, and the second Malcolm meets the little baby he loves her. There is a lot of danger surrounding the new-born baby, but Malcolm is determined to do everything he can to protect her.
In La Belle Sauvage Lyra herself doesn’t play a huge part in the story, but her past does. We uncover more of her backstory; see a little of Lord Asriel and Miss Coulter through someone else’s eyes, hear more of the events surrounding Lyra’s birth, and discover how she ended up at Jordan College among the scholars.
When the flood sweeps Malcolm and Lyra away Alice is with them, having warned Malcolm of a man who plans to hurt Lyra. Alice and Malcolm do not get along, but forced to flee in Malcolm’s canoe they are forced to put those differences behind them in an effort to keep Lyra safe. Despite Alice being the older of the two she often defers to Malcolm, he is the one with the plan even if it isn’t much of a plan at first. Alice has high walls shielding her from the world, but she becomes less guarded around Malcolm as their journey on La Belle Sauvage commences and the two bond from the journey, and all they see and fight through.
There were plenty of times in La Belle Sauvage where the story would move away from Malcolm and Lyra to one of the many side characters who play a part in this book. This was another reason I found it hard to get into the story. After a while I did get used to it, a lot of what we discovered through these secondary characters’ chapters was necessary to understanding the world as the story moved forwards, but I enjoyed reading Malcolm’s journey more than I did that of the secondary characters.
The world building was one of the things I loved the most about this book, though like a lot of aspects about La Belle Sauvage it took me a while to properly get into it. Philip Pullman has created a world, a London and an Oxford, like ours but with magic, and when the flood comes it wakes up beings who have been sleeping for so long. At times it was hard to remember that Malcolm and Alice were only trying to get from London to Oxford as they came across small islands where river guardians, witches and faeries were waiting for them. Like with the His Dark Materials books Dust plays a large part in the story, but a lot of the descriptions and explanations left me more confused than not. Even now having re-read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy I still probably couldn’t say for sure what Dust is.
It was only when I started reading La Belle Sauvage that I remembered how much I loved Philip Pullman’s work and the stories he’s written. I really enjoyed La Belle Sauvage but I can’t deny that I’m more excited for the second volume which features Lyra as the main character again.
You don’t need to have read the His Dark Materials trilogy to understand the first volume in The Book of Dust trilogy, it’s more of a prequel to Lyra’s story so you could always do what I’ve done; read La Belle Sauvage and then (re)read the His Dark Materials trilogy.
What did you think of La Belle Sauvage? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.