La Belle Sauvage : The Book of Dust Volume One

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Philip Pullman,  La Belle Sauvage : The Book of Dust Volume One, David Fickling Books, 17 Oct 2017, 448pp., $32.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9780857561084

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 make a dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra forever…

The long-awaited prequel to the epic His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman has well and truly done it again with his brand new offering.  The Book of Dust is every bit as fascinating, captivating and enthralling, and will no doubt take its place in the annals of classic literature.  I’d be willing to bet that if you’re reading this review you’ve already read the book and are doing so out of interest; or you’ve already decided to read the book and you’re just looking to whet your appetite a little further.  For those of you in the latter category, I can guarantee you’re in for one amazing ride.

Volume One takes its name from the simple canoe which is the pride and joy of the central character, young Malcolm Polstead.  A classic Arthurian hero – Malcolm is given a quest that is greater than he feels he is capable of.  Malcolm’s adventure touches on themes that will seem familiar – forces he does not understand working towards a hidden agenda; the need to do what is right, which at times is at odds with what he is being told to do; and a need to grow beyond the boundaries of his existence, to reach out into the world and see just what he might become.

La Belle Sauvage is, not to put too fine a point on it, exquisitely written. Pullman is a master craftsman of atmosphere, intrigue and adventure. He is also incredibly adept at weaving coming-of-age tales that are emotionally deep and startlingly heartfelt, ringing with undeniable truth.  Even when the surroundings are strange and fantastical, Pullman manages to bring to life characters that are stunningly real, who go on journeys of the heart that we can all relate to.  We feel every mile of Malcolm’s journey, we grow with him and see the changing world through his young eyes.

For anyone who read and loved Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, La Belle Sauvage is absolutely essential reading.  Volume Two in the new series, entitled The Secret Commonwealth, is reportedly finished and will no doubt be as highly anticipated as Volume One, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Reviewed by Christian Price

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