A review of “La Belle Sauvage” by Philip Pullman

Published in 2017, we have had to wait 17 years for the first part of the trilogy “The Book Of Dust” since the publication of “The Amber Spyglass”, the final part of the trilogy “His Dark Materials”. This novel is a prequel to the other three and “La Belle Sauvage” – the name of a canoe that is central to the plot – is set 10 years before “Northern Lights” in the same universe which, in the words of “Northern Lights” is like our own universe “but different in many ways”.

The heroine of “His Dark Materials”, Lyra, is here only six months old, but we have a new young hero, 11 year old Malcolm Polstead, and a new young heroine, 15 year old Alice Parslow, who are brought together in a desperate attempt to save baby Lyra from the clutches of the Consistorial Court of Disciple, while simultaneously being pursued by the secret service known as Oakley Street, in the other-worldly nature of a southern England overcome by a flood of Noah-like proportions.

We meet people (notably Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter), characters (such as daemons, gyptians and witches) and objects (the enigmatic alethiometer) that we know from the earlier trilogy but, at this stage in the new trilogy, we discover little more about the mysterious Dust, though we are told: “Since the discovery of the Rusakov field and the shocking but incontestable revelation that consciousness can no longer be regarded exclusively as a function of the human brain, the search for a particle associated with the field has been energetically pursued by a number of researchers and institutions without, so far, any indication of success.”

Although not as brilliantly inventive as the other three novels, this is an enjoyable 540-page addition to the original canon of 1,300 pages.

Philip Pullman has decribed his second triology “The Book Of Dust” as not a sequel or a prequel but an “equal”. Whereas “La Belle Sauvage” starts 10 years before “His Dark Materials”, the next two books will move forward 10 years from “HDM” to when Lyra is an adult. Fortuantely we won’t have to wait another 17 years for them …


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