La Belle Sauvage – Part One of the Book of Dust is a great new story from Phillip Pullman, and well worth the wait.
When I was younger I loved Phillip Pullman’s books, in particular, the His Dark Materials trilogy (and the associated addon books published later). I imagine I missed most of the more metaphorical aspects of the story, but the core journey itself: the characters, the places and the adventure in it all was amazing.
And when I learned that Pullman was working on an additional book to expand the story even further, I couldn’t wait. But waiting for that book took some time. Now that I’ve read it, I can say it was definitely worth the wait. I had no idea what the story was going to be, and was surprised to find a prequel. A good prequel, mind you.
This time around, things are perhaps a little less exotic than in the previous books. The story and conflicts are far more grounded in reality, but still with the good touches of the supernatural that comes with the Alternate Universe.
This book has very good “Bad Guys”. The same ones as in previous installations but here the religious authorities’ intrusion into every part of life is told in a neat way that seems almost Orwellian. Particularly the part about taking advantage of kids by giving them power they clearly don’t understand the full implications of, and the whole wedge that drives between the people in a society.
As for “good guys”, the mystery of the secret group Oakley Street covertly trying to fight back against the religion, and the way it is brought out in this book seems to me quite different to the way it had been present in previous books. It is far closer to the main plot line, and it fits quite well. The fight isn’t very black and white though, Hannah (who has good intentions) has clearly got caught up in a messy business, and it’s not immediately obvious that anyone can be trusted. This moral ambiguity is nice and heightens whats at stake in the story.
Both good and bad, the core characters (+dæmons) are very likeable. Some totally new and some from previous books, but all the same very engaging. I like the dialogue a lot in this. The characters all to speak in realistic ways, which is nice, as it avoids a lot of excessive pontificating I’ve read in other stories and seen on film. The accents are great, and there’s a lot of humour thrown about – in appropriate places of the story, the tone is well managed as the story unfolds.
The conflict is great too. Pullman’s prose doesn’t pull punches here, especially with Bonneville’s mad and incessant presence throughout. The danger is real, and the way everyone react to it each time makes for very good and immersive reading. The flood of near biblical proportions is extremely well detailed, and throughout that section of the story the way its troubles cause the kids to change and grow goes a long way to making them seem real.
I did enjoy getting to know about Lyra’s history, and look forward to seeing where its going from here. There’s a whole host of other characters to follow – Alice, Malcolm, Hannah, and despite already knowing the outcome of the story (chronologically speaking), I am greatly anticipating seeing how things unfurl further.
I would definitely recommend reading this if you’re a fan of the HDM series. It would be a good read even if you don’t know anything of the other books, although some of the notions used might escape you.
Words aren’t my strongest point, and I’ve probably missed some stuff, but this book definitely gets a 36 / 36 from me.