Book Review: The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

la belle sauvage book of dust one philip pullman

Three miles up the river Thames from the centre of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadows, there stood the priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

I absolutely loved this. It has been a long time since I read His Dark Materials, which consists of some of my favourite books of all time. I briefly considered re-reading them before diving into The Book of Dust: volume one. In the end I was far too excited to wait.

It took a while for me to settle into this book – I was, I think, a bit too excited about it and couldn’t quite enjoy what was happening now because I wanted to know what would happen next. I became absorbed quite quickly, to the point where I cannot actually pinpoint when I stopped jittering about. Malcolm was, at first, a bit difficult for me to relate to. He grew on me as the story went on, and I think it helped that the point of view moved occasionally.

One of the things I’ve always really loved about His Dark Materials is the worldbuilding (especially in the first book, Northern Lights), so I was absolutely delighted to be returning to the same world. I had forgotten how much I enjoy Philip Pullman’s writing, the long lyrical sentences; the specificity of his dialogue and the richness of feeling. The story is set when Lyra is a baby, and it was exciting to get a sense of Brytain ten years before Northern Lights. Marisa Coulter turns up, which made me yell a bit – I’ve always counted her as one of my favourite villains.

There were some things that were tricky for me – I liked that His Dark Materials had a female central character, so I kept having to adjust for Malcolm being in the middle of it all. There were women in the story, quite a lot of them, but it’s just not quite the same. Of course, Malcolm’s Daemon is female, so there is that.

As for the plot – oh I was just swept away. I read this in two sittings over one day, and I could probably read it again next week. It was, in instances, very fairytale-esque. And relevant to current events in a somewhat scary manner.

I’m well aware that I’m not being particularly objective – it’s all very fresh in my mind and I sort of want to think about it all, re-read it, think about it all again and then re-read the original three books. I’d say it’s definitely a brilliant addition to the world, and I’m interested to see what happens with the other Book of Dust volumes.

Rating: read this book. Do your best to keep your head above the rising water.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. peterosser
    Oct 20, 2017 @ 17:55:24

    Malcolm in the middle! I’m sure Nicole Kidman will be able to return – perhaps a part for Nicholas Cage too? Will you be lending your copy out to “friends”?


  2. Meredith
    Oct 20, 2017 @ 21:01:51

    Please don’t remind me that they attempted to make a film. It was so very very very painful. And even if it hadn’t been, Nicole Kidman would still have been completely the wrong person for the part. Can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that I’d cast as Mrs. Coulter, but Nicole Kidman just always seemed completely wrong.

    If by friends you mean relatives who are visiting in the near future and possibly going abroad for some time, I’m sure some sort of book hostage exchange *cough cough Bitch Doctrine cough cough* could be organised. But the aforementioned person would have to be very very careful, because it’s a damn beautiful book and I’m fond of it!


  3. LittleSeaBear
    Nov 01, 2017 @ 23:04:57

    Great review. I’ve just finished reading it. I loved “His dark materials” trilogy and was really excited when this book was announced. I agree that the film was just dreadful! I’d hate them to ruin this one too – I heard BBC were going to do a TV adaption of his dark materials though.

    Feel free to visit my website if you want to see my review.


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