Title: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)
Author: Philip Pullman
It’s ages since I read ‘His Dark Materials’, so I was concerned that I wouldn’t remember enough about the story to engage with the first book in the prequel trilogy, ‘The Book of Dust’.
I needn’t have worried. The first chapter introduces most of the story’s main elements (including La Belle Sauvage, the canoe of the title). The differences between the modern world and the world of the story are introduced gradually, and act as reminders if you’ve read the later books, or gentle worldbuilding for readers new to the series. The fantastical elements of the story are introduced and explained through the characters and their conversations, so nothing feels like an infodump.
The protagonist is eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, whose life revolves around working at his parents’ inn in Oxford, helping the nuns in the priory across the river, exploring the river in his beloved canoe, and going to school. He’s an engaging character – curious, serious, and more at home in the adult world than with his school friends. He maintains his canoe, helps the caretaker at the priory with carpentry and repairs, and helps the nuns with their work, always quick to learn and apply his skills.
And he needs those skills. When a catastrophic flood hits Oxford, Malcolm’s adventure begins. With realistic and fantastical elements, and Pullman’s trademark critique of organised religion, the book builds to a tense climax. The links to ‘His Dark Materials’ become evident during the story, and by the final scenes the connection between the trilogies is clear.
It’s a good story – slow to build at first, but always interesting. There are moments of intense action, and moments of fear and danger, but most of the book focuses on Malcolm, his resourcefulness, and his relationships with the people around him. I’m looking forward to Book 2.
I listened to the story as an audiobook, so I should mention the narration. Michael Sheen is a fantastic narrator, capturing the day-to-day activities of Malcolm’s life while bringing an intense sense of drama to the exciting parts of the story. I don’t usually buy audiobooks, but I really enjoyed listening to Malcolm’s adventures over breakfast every morning. I’m planning to have Michael Sheen read the sequels to me as well!
Have you read La Belle Sauvage? What did you think? How would you rate it? And how do you think it compares with ‘His Dark Materials’? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and let us know what you think!
Review cross-posted to GoodReads.
Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.