“The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage”, by Philip Pullman, gave me my fifth book in the Readers Digest reading challenge this year – the ‘book with animal on the cover’. (See that hyena, hanging on the B and the O?) It’s also the book which gave me arm ache as I’m not used to reading hardbacks, and it’s got a lot of pages!
I was pretty excited to read it as I love the original trilogy, His Dark Materials. As a Philosophy student, the central questions in the books were fascinating when I read them first, 15 years ago – who are we, do we have free will? What happens to us when we die? These questions are still interesting, and are still being asked in the prequel, volume 1.
This read a bit like Rogue One in the Star Wars universe – a prequel to everything that came before it and a piece of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place. The story follows 11 year old Malcolm Polstead – the son of the couple who run the local pub on the outskirts of Oxford. He’s got a bit more about him than the ordinary pub landlord’s kid, and quite soon he’s caught up in shadowy conversations and mysterious disappearances.
It was really lovely to be back in the Dust universe – I loved familiarising myself with daemons and Oxford, spotting soon to be well loved and worn characters in the next books. It was quite a hard read and it took me a little while to get into it, which may have been because I’m so connected with Lyra and Will, that new characters which are the same but not quite took a bit of getting used to.
I was also quite shocked at some of the language – there was definitely some swearing and some of the discussions were adult themed. It belonged in the story and perhaps these books are aimed at the people who grew up with the first trilogy and who are now adults themselves. After all, Will and Lyra grow up in those books so really, it’s nothing new. I would perhaps not recommend it for bedtime reading with your children though, especially as it involves quite sinister characters as well as a fight for survival with graphic depictions.
I definitely enjoyed it and I am already looking forward to book 2 “The Secret Commonwealth”, reportedly to centre on 20 year old Lyra and take place after the end of The Amber Spyglass.