Birmingham, Uk

Cover of the book of dust by illustrator Chris Wormell

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

An expansion of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust is a trilogy that delves deeper into Lyra’s story. La Belle Sauvage, the first of these novels explores the events leading up to the much-loved Northern Lights. In chronological order, the action of the book takes place 10 years before that of Northern Lights with this being released over 20 years after the publication of His Dark Materials in 1995 and after various short stories.

Phillip Pullman is a fascinating author, expertly blending metaphorical themes into a cosy novel that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Reading the book feels like connecting to an established storybook yet with genuine moments of tension. The audience for this book is toned towards older readers, unlike his dark materials.

It follows the same world as the previous trilogy of alethiometers, daemons and the Magisterium but recounts Lyra’s journey to Jordan College. Philip Pullman describes this world as loosely related to our own but fantasy, owing to the transformation of our world in the time of Lyra’s adventure.

Malcolm is an 11-year-old inquisitive and resourceful innkeeper’s son who becomes embroiled in the politics of the oppressive, totalitarian government that serves a deeper sense of control, the backdrop being the dangerous venture of research into dust. Malcolm is observant and fiercely protective of the baby Lyra with whom he develops a strong bond. He is an adept navigator and a quick learner which are necessary skills for when the ultimate reckoning presents in the form of a liquid tomb of a flood. He becomes the guardian and protector of the baby Lyra along with Alice, a wary and cynical kitchen maid who comes across as morally conflicted and damaged but ultimately resilient and resourceful.

Together they travel the flood in Malcolm’s faithful boat, La Belle Sauavage towards Jordan College and Lyra’s glamorous father Lord Asriela and away from her corrupting, evil mother Mrs Coulter who features as a villain alongside a horrifying other antagonist who torments them in following with twisted, gothic quality.

The book tackles social and philosophical ideas with a reasonable and thought-provoking approach. The values of power and religion, politics and authority are all explored in fascinating metaphors, yet the story remains gripping. it is part of the trilogy of the Book of Dust with this being set before and the next, The Secret Commonwealth following events after and the third yet to be released. 

I found all the characters in the book captivating and enjoyed it however not as much as the His Dark Materials trilogy. There were some thrilling moments and after committing to the book I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of fantasy, sci-fi and adventure in a universal style.

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