Title: The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage
Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: Fantasy, YA Children’s Literature
Publisher: Penguin Books/David Fickling Books
Published: 19th October, 2017
Synopsis: Philip Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials with this magnificent first volume of The Book of Dust.
Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.
Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child…he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own playing with his daemon Asta in their canoe, which was called La Belle Sauvage.
Malcolm Polstead’s life in the pub beside the Thames is safe and happy enough, if uneventful. But during a winter of unceasing rain the forces of science, religion and politics begin to clash, and as the weather rises to a pitch of ferocity, all of Malcolm’s certainties are torn asunder. Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life and to make the dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra forever.
La Belle Sauvage takes place in 1986, ten years before the events of Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in America), in an alternate Oxford where people’s souls are daemons on the outside of their bodies, and where technology has a Victorian or steampunk feel to it – gyrocopters and zeppelins that speed through the air, and carriages that trundle along the streets, whilst Malcolm and the other children do not play video games, but out in the wilderness. This idyllic life that the characters lead that reminded me of The Wind in the Willows and the idyllic world the Lewis Carroll created in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is not to last. As the winter draws in and the rain that has been threatening to fall begins to make good on its threat, Malcolm, and the barmaid at his parent’s bar, the Trout, will find themselves caught up where religion, science and politics begin to intersect, and interfere in people’s lives. The culprit behind this has a honey sweet voice, and a golden monkey as her daemon, and a charm about her that will draw many children into the organisation she has formed to enforce control over everyone and denounce the work of Lord Asriel and his cohorts. The arrival of Mrs Coulter and the flood sends Malcolm, Alice and baby Lyra on a dangerous journey as they try to save Lyra and Pantalaimon from the clutches of those who want to harm her. In this world, they can trust nobody but themselves, and as the perilous journey will show, the danger of extreme politics and religion will only harm the innocent.
Over two decades later, Pullman has successfully drawn his devoted audience back into the world of Lyra and Pan, and their Oxford. It is an Oxford of wonder and a world influenced by myth and fairy tale, where the dangers of the world are not always people with weapons or weather, but also mystical forces that try and delay or prevent Malcolm, Alice and Lyra from moving on. Farder Coram’s appearance is brief; however, it is important to note due to the role that he and the other gyptians, and the witches, come to play in the His Dark Materials trilogy. For fans of this trilogy, it has been a seventeen year wait for this new series, and it did not fail to impress. It was one that I savoured a little, and meandered a bit with so I could fully appreciate the story. Lyra’s presence is important, as she is the driving force behind Malcolm and Alice’s mission – and baby Pan was adorable. I hope that their presence will be felt in forthcoming books for The Book of Dust, as I and many other readers enjoy Lyra and her world, and her Oxford wouldn’t be the same without her.