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The Book of Dust #1

La Belle Sauvage

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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 for ever…

546 pages, Hardcover

First published October 19, 2017

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About the author

Philip Pullman

298 books23.6k followers
As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader's mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I'm not going to explain.

Anyway, I'm not in the message business; I'm in the "Once upon a time" business.

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, which has been named one of the top 100 novels of all time by Newsweek and one of the all-time greatest novels by Entertainment Weekly. In 2004, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He lives in Oxford, England.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,204 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
October 23, 2017
Malcolm tried to remember the fairy tales he knew. Could you bargain with fairies? Did they keep their promises?

It's hard to believe, but I was ten years old when I first read Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Along with Harry Potter, it is one of the standout reads of my childhood and, perhaps, my entire life. So, obviously, when I heard about La Belle Sauvage, I simply had to bury my skepticism and read it.

And I think this book digs up the past pretty well. I’ve had mixed feelings about this trend of revisiting old series and retelling everything from classic fairy tales to Wonder Woman. When the publishers dug down to the 1950s and pulled out Go Set a Watchman, when Stephen King published a sequel to The Shining almost 40 years after the original, every time Stephenie Meyer and E.L.James tell the same story from yet another point of view… I am reminded that we live in a world where marketability is far more powerful than just a good story. Why work on building a new brand and creating a new audience when there is already one right there for you?

That being said, I think La Belle Sauvage does it right. Pullman captures the feel of the original trilogy but, at least so far, I don't feel like you need to read His Dark Materials to understand this book (though, why wouldn't you? ^_^). However, it does feel very much like part of a series. This book is clearly called "Volume 1" for a good reason, as it reads like the first section of a full novel, not as a standalone.

Here we are taken back in time to when Lyra was a baby. We meet her parents and her spirited dæmon, Pantalaimon, through the eyes of the curious and adventurous, Malcolm Polstead, who finds himself forced to protect infant Lyra from the many threats she faces. Floods, disgusting villains, and scathing critiques of organized religion abound!

But I should advise that it is a slow-burning tale. Though tantalising tidbits of magic and secrets are hinted at throughout the book, the action doesn’t really get going until over halfway through. To me, though, this is classic Pullman, and I wasn't bored for a second. La Belle Sauvage climbs, slowly at first and then faster, towards a dark and brutal climax. Readers may wish to be aware of a potentially triggering .

I can't deny that it was an absolute pleasure to find myself once more in this world of dæmons, alethiometers and mystery. Only time and further volumes will tell if this trilogy really needed to be reopened, but I'm definitely coming along for the ride.

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Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
April 28, 2020
Phillip Pullman is clearly capable of great things. He achieves an absolute mastery of tone, style and plot in The Golden Compass. However, I found none of that mastery in this book.

Admittedly, I had major reservations going into it; yet, for all that, I did approach it with an open mind. I tried to appreciate it for what it was, though sadly that really isn’t much to get excited about. The writing is average, the plot slow and the new characters rather bland and ordinary.

For me, the biggest problem this book has is its lack of autonomy. The most exciting episodes of the plot were when characters from His Dark Materials were mentioned or even appeared in the flesh. Granted, this is a companion trilogy and, certainly, this was clearly meant to be read with the other trilogy in mind, but it still needs enough strength to stand on its own to an extent. And sadly it just doesn’t possess that strength. The plot was exceedingly underdeveloped in the first half and the second half only served to usher Lyra’s arrival in Oxford.

Is that all we’re getting Mr Pullman?

The new characters Pullman has written aren’t exactly remarkable or interesting. Malcolm, the protagonist, is a very typical leading man with his heroic traits and natural intelligence that has yet to find a proper channel. All in all, he’s a pretty standard person whose only real passion seems to be his boat named La Belle Sauvage. His friend, and possible love interest, Alice is angry with Malcolm because he doesn’t notice her. She kicks him, shouts at him and wishes for his attention. Her feelings were firmly established early on yet were majorly underworked through the rest of the novel.

In terms of narrative progression, I feel like the story barely moved forward. Again, for the first half it stayed in the same place with Malcom running errands, spying on people, checking on a six month old Lyra and reading a few books. In the second half he spent most of it on a boat arguing with Alice and looking for Lord Asriel. It lacked a certain sense of purpose and urgency. I never felt like the important characters were really in danger, obviously because we know where they’re going to end up from reading the previous trilogy.

Whist this book is far from being dreadful, it is completely unengaging. There’s so much in The Golden Compass worthy of literary criticism, but absolutely nothing here. I have no reason to actually read the rest of the series. At this point I have to ask myself the essential question: why did he even write this?


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Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
434 reviews4,248 followers
May 23, 2023
Philip Pullman is my hero. He is the pinnacle of how an author can make you care about a character. He took a HUGE risk by not relying on established fan-favorite characters to sell this new book. Instead, we have a new character named Malcolm who meets Lyra as an infant. We have a front row seat as Malcolm embarks on many new adventures.

This book was page-turning. I caught myself up at 3:30 am reading this book. It was very captivating.

Here is the link to my more in-depth review (admittedly one of Philip Pullman's biggest fans):

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Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,950 reviews435 followers
June 30, 2023
We delve back in to alternate-world Oxford, miles from armoured bears but surrounded yet again by daemons and the mysterious alethiometers, following a young boy named Malcolm who is stuck in a world where young working-class boys are mostly discouraged from learning beyond their schooling and are fervently taught that religion is the only truth.

There is really no great ingenuity here that came previously with His Dark Materials and honestly, that is the only place to start with Philip Pullman. It begins idyllic and slow, building the story as the rain falls. Intrigue comes in to place in many parts, but it's quite often when you expect it. We meet characters we met in His Dark Materials and you are setting yourself up for some major spoilers if you read this book first, but truthfully it is the journey of a book not the ending that makes it.

Once the magic of the alethiometers turns up and the rain starts to become incredible, the story begins in earnest. It felt more like setting the scene took too long, but this alternate-world Oxford (and England) was altogether comforting and peaceful that it was difficult not to care too much about that. Returning to a world that one likes rather a lot is paramount to forgiving mostly anything.

Of course, it is written by Philip Pullman and so the writing is almost perfect. There is nothing particularly lacking, though because it is written for children you get the slightly condensed characters that usually come with that genre, where they are not wholly fleshed out but made "simple". It's difficult to defend prequels or even sequels-hey, authors have to make money, too-but the alternate history/worlds of His Dark Materials is such a vast, blindingly colourful world that there would be no end to the exploration of the place. The ideas, the daemons, the alethiometer, the dimensions and witches, armoured bears and gyptians, good versus evil and science versus religion is a ridiculously large field of such scope that even a trilogy, a double trilogy or a triply trilogy could never quite explore.

My rating is mostly based on how much I enjoyed the writing (it's so nice to read books by people who can actually, factually write) and the story, along with nostalgia for His Dark Materials. Really it is a 2-3 star story, with 5+ star ideas and 5 star writing, some 1 star characters, some 4 star. It encompasses a lot of feelings and emotions, and yet the overall feeling was simply comfort.

This book comforted me, like a freshly change duvet on a warm summer's day, smelling faintly of lavender.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
September 17, 2018
A wonderful way to start off the new year, especially with the cold and the wet everywhere. I loved the slow pace of the first half, all of the details that brought life to sweet, curious Malcolm's world. I loved the thrill of the second half: its many surreal and threatening episodes, the rise of Malcolm's rage-dogs, the faerie queen and the witch queen, the bravery, and everything to do with grouchy Alice. The appalling villain Gerard Bonneville (and his three-legged hyena daemon) was fascinatingly perverse. I enjoyed the brief appearances by Lord Asriel and especially Mrs. Coulter. Loved all of the daemons (except hyena daemon of course, because hyenas are the worst) and La Belle Sauvage was a lovely little boat. Pullman ratchets up the darkness a few notches but also makes certain that light is always present. So many entrancing, haunting, and exciting moments!

This was a satisfying and exciting prequel that I look forward to rereading.

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Profile Image for Kristen Peppercorn .
558 reviews96 followers
October 27, 2017
*Possible spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.*

I cannot believe that I am rating this book 2 stars.

This was my most anticipated read of 2017. After reading His Dark Materials last year and falling in love with the world and having the story shatter me and embed itself deeply into my soul, I was so excited for this book, I would honestly go to bed smiling sometimes thinking about how awesome this book was going to be. I think it's safe to say that how I'm feeling now, after reading it, is a little bit more than disappointed. I honestly want to cry when I think about how let down I am. I'm not even sure what I wanted from this book, I just know that I didn't get it.

Okay, so I'm going to start with what I liked, before this turns into a rant review.

What I liked:

1. Baby Lyra and the introduction of baby daemons. I had never given much thought to what a person's daemon is like when they're a baby, but the amount of cuteness that this entails is out of this dimension.

2. How much Malcolm loved and cared for baby Lyra. Kid did good. Good job, kid.

3. Alice and being generally feisty. She was the most real character to me in this story. She wasn't beautiful. In fact, she was even described as ratty at one point. I appreciated that and also her strength, tenacity, as well as her vulnerability at times.

And now for the longer list, What I didn't like:

1. Nothing happened. Okay, so obviously some stuff happened, but for a 450 page book, nothing happened. For the majority of the book, it's just about getting Lyra from one part of town during a flood to the next. Pullman said somewhere that this book wasn't going to be a prequel or a sequel, but an EQUAL. He lied. If this isn't a prequel, I don't know what is.

2. Baby Lyra Yes, this is something I liked and something I disliked. At first, I was all: AWWWW. SHE'S SO PWECIOUS! But then it slowly dawned on me that she was going to be a baby throughout the whole book. I swear to goosh that I read somewhere that Pullman said the story would follow Lyra from the ages of 4 YEARS OLD to 20 YEARS OLD. Am I making this up? I honestly am so confused, because she was 6 months old throughout the whole dang thing. I was hoping that by the time she turned 20, she and Will would find a way to be together again. EXCUSE THE SHIT OUT OF ME FOR DARING TO DREAM! All I want is to live in a world where Lyra and Will can be together.

3. The dark tone. I mean, obviously Pullman includes some controversial topics in his works. In His Dark Materials, there were obviously dark things happening and some religious boundaries being crossed, but it was so magical, I didn't give a flying fluff. I honestly wasn't offended, just amazed at his creativity, genius and originality. I WAS ACTUALLY OFFENDED AND PUT OFF A NUMBER OF TIMES IN THIS BOOK. I am no super Christian, but what happened with St. Alexander was effed the fuck up! Having a bad group of Christians go to all the schools and tell the kids a story about a kid who told on his parents and got them hung for not being a Christian and then being made a saint is a low blow to Christians, I feel. Honestly, it seems like Pullman is getting bitter in his old age. There are also instances of RAPE, STRONG LANGUAGE, MURDER, FLOATING DEAD BODIES and a WEIRD NAKED BREAST FEEDING/BABY THEFT SCENE that mildly disturbed me.

4. Where is the magic? I'm not talking about spells and wizardry and whatnot, I'm talking about that special feeling you get when all of the elements of a story come together to create pure magic in your heart and soul. There really wasn't anything about this book that made it any different than any other book in the world. Nothing special to set it apart from all the rest like His Dark Materials had. No talking armored polar bears. No nothing. Except for a weird, delusional naked fairy lady who is in serious need of some mental help, but she doesn't count because I'm trying my best to erase her from my memory.

5. It took me forever to get through. Listen, some people read one book a week and, for them, that is amazing. I'm the kind of person that likes to get through about 3 books a week. Somehow, this 450 page book took me an entire week to finish. And it took away my excitement for reading the entire time. I kind of dreaded picking it back up, because I was afraid that the next disturbing thing to happen would lessen my opinion of the original trilogy somehow. I don't think it did, thankfully. I'm just going to mentally compartmentalize these two series into different categories, and not let this dud dampen my appreciation for HDM.

I think that I will probably pick up the next book in the series, although probably from the library as to not waste my money, because I've come this far and I'm still holding out hope that it will get better. After all, it wasn't until the third book in the original series that my soul was shattered. You never know. I might even like the next book.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.5k followers
November 29, 2017

I was excited to read more from that world. I have to say the book left me a bit... unsatisfied? I wanted more and I will continue reading this series but it mostly felt like an intro, not a full book.

However, it made me want to reread His Dark Materials ASAP!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,324 reviews2,145 followers
January 29, 2022
This was really good. I liked it better than His Dark Materials. The characters were better drawn, the story was more interesting and it really seemed not to be aimed at the same market. There were references to sexual activity and rape and some of the scenes were quite brutal. Not really appropriate for children at all.

However I enjoyed it very much indeed. I must admit that credit should be given to Michael Sheen, the narrator of the audiobook. His impersonation of the laugh of a rabid jackal was a masterpiece! I even replayed it:) He did all of the other characters really well too.

As someone who used to live between Oxford and London, I really appreciated the journey and I could visualise the river breaking its banks and spreading out across all those fields. And then there were the daemons and the magical creatures and of course Lyra herself, in this story an eight month old baby, but already aware beyond her age. Wonderful. Oh and don't forget those poor nuns who seemed to suffer more than they should have.

I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage so much and cannot wait now for the next book.
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
Shelved as 'wishlist'
May 29, 2017

EDIT 15/02/2017: This comes out in October -do you know what that means? It means that Simona is going to re-read all three books of His Dark Materials before then! Yay!
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews684 followers
April 13, 2018
4ish stars.

My first experience with the Pullman-verse. I never read The Golden Compass, but reading this makes me want to. Malcolm is a great character, and the adventure he embarks on is exciting and interesting. There are some great secondary characters as well, particularly Hannah Relf. I wonder if/hope that they appear in the original series?? The tone is dark and adult for a book obviously meant for a younger audience (including f-bombs, sexual assault), but it's still very much a YA/children's book. I'm sure it's more enjoyable in the context of the larger universe, and it can't really be read as a standalone; it begs to be read as a prequel to the original series. I guess I need to add another series to my TBR pile. Woof.

The audio by Michael Sheen is really awesome. It's too bad he doesn't narrate the original series, but I hear good things about the audio for that as well.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Trish.
2,018 reviews3,436 followers
November 14, 2017
The flood changed everything.

... extreme weather had its own state of mind ...

I'm usually weary of prequels of any kind. It often sounds like a movie company, author or whoever wants to cash in on past successes. In case of Philip Pullman, I was a bit more optimistic - especially after reading His Dark Materials only last month (I had only known the very first book up to that point). Also, Pullman was indeed asked if this was a prequel, to which he gave the perfect answer, calling it an "equel". Besides, I was curious where he would take us readers as it was known in advance that we'd meet baby Lyra and a few well-known characters alongside a host of new ones here. And we did.

La Belle Sauvage is the name of a canoe that belongs to 11-year-old Malcolm who lives with his parents. They have an inn near Oxford and it is there (as well as at a priory where Malcolm helps the nuns) that he hears strange rumours and makes a discovery that will change his life forever.
He is sucked into a whirlwind of intrigue and religious oppression, becoming a little spy even. And he is shown an alethiometer.
At some point, he and a girl named Alice, who works at the inn, have to save baby Lyra from the forces converging around her exactly at the moment a huge flood sets in.
The rest of the book is a wonderfully strange quest through a half-drowned world to get away from the bad guys and save innocent little Lyra and her daemon (which is a quest to save every inquisitve mind that advocates free speech and a free spirit).

It was very gratifying to read about .
Pullman even .

What is once again so remarkable (apart from the wonderful daemons) is Pullman's ability to weave in so many ideas and social/political criticisms into the narrative without it ever getting boring or preachy. The League of Alexander as a nod to the Red Scares in the US and the SS/Stasi in Germany, respectively, but also the trademark criticism of religious institutions and their despotic and totalitarian way of stifling speculation and enquiry are just two examples of this author's mastery.

I was very glad to have recognized Malcolm almost at once from the later books and was so pleased about how he was portrayed and put in the spotlight here (). Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances rising to the challenge to do the right things even if it is dangerous and hard.

As the other three books, this too gets metaphysical but never so much that the reader (no matter the age) can't follow. In fact, Pullman always makes sure to balance the science aspect with folklore (in this case the king's roads and fae realm especially).
By the way, as His Dark Materials was a nod to Milton, so this new trilogy apparently is a nod to Spenser’s The Faerie Queene which is even quoted in the end. Or maybe it's just this first book, I'm not sure yet, because the second one will make a huge time jump to 10 years after Lyra comes back from the Arctic at the end of the previous trilogy (this second installment is already finished and is scheduled to be published in about a year). I can't wait to see where Pullman is taking us next because one thing is for sure: he never does not have anything to say!

P.S.: This version is the signed hardcopy but I did also listen to the wonderful Michael Sheen narrating the audiobook and was enchanted.
Profile Image for Natasha Hurley-Walker.
533 reviews22 followers
September 16, 2019
Short version: Tedious and utterly unnecessary prequel to the brilliant Dark Materials series. DO NOT READ.

Long version:
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews984 followers
June 28, 2023
Malcolm Polstead was always a polite, observant and respectful child; likely because he's growing up and helping out at his parents' inn most evenings. When he's not at school he loves playing and riding in his canoe La Belle Sauvage. Through overheard conversations and mosey questions Malcolm finds himself gradually becoming a key player in a a covert battle between religious extremists and those that oppose them, Oakley Street; but what does baby Lyra have to do with it all?

At first I was excited to be back in the world of Dust and Daemons, but this prequel was too good, in that is specifically about Lyra's early life, but we already know she survived and grew up OK to appear in the later/earlier written books, the book really lack a sense of danger? I feel it would have worked better if it focused on the early years of Lyra's parents? Right? Hard work to finish, but still a 5 out of 12, for tight continuity and world building with the rest of the series. Pullman is lucky, or has been rewarded for his past creativity as anything he creates in this reality will sell well, and be hyper marketable.

2023 read
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,028 reviews373 followers
December 21, 2018
A Canoa Selvagem

Quem se deixou encantar por aquele mundo de fantasia inebriante de Lyra Silvertongue, irá certamente apreciar este reencontro nostálgico com os génios, o explorador Lord Asriel, o aletiómetro, a malévola-glamorosa Mrs. Coulter, o misterioso Pó, etc, etc...

A acção decorre 10 anos antes da época de “Reinos do Norte” — o primeiro volume da trilogia “Mundos Paralelos” — o que deu azo a alguma confusão, pois houve quem intuísse erradamente tratar-se duma prequela. Erradamente, porque o segundo volume da Trilogia “Belle Sauvage”, irá acontecer 20 anos após a narrativa de “Reinos do Norte”. Assim, abstraindo do timing da acção que decorre no ainda inexistente terceiro volume, se arriscarmos uma média, diremos tratar-se duma “equela”, que devo confessar , pois a malfadada honestidade assim me obriga, não ser um vocábulo da minha lavra, mas sim da autoria do brilhante Phillip Pullman — eu cá só andei à cata dum pouco da lógica por trás do brilhantismo ... ;)

E que delícia de título este — La Belle Sauvage — que soa um pouco a uma daquelas águas de colónia francesas exorbitantemente caras 😊😉
E já que estou numa onda de blá, blá, blá, confesso-vos que julguei tratar-se duma referência a uma Lyra jovem adulta, que entretanto desabrochara rebelde, pura e linda, ao ponto de merecer o epíteto “Belle Sauvage”.
Porém, errar humanum est, e eu como humana que sou, errei redondamente — não obstante ser o Sol de toda a trama, a Lyra que iremos encontrar, ainda suja fraldas e chucha no dedo, e daí não ser ela a tal Belle Sauvage que eu havia idealizado! Tal nome poético coube antes a uma simples 🛶 canoa, cujo desempenho na história é tal, que não será de todo descabido incluí-la no rol de personagens...

Tal como em “Mundos Paralelos”, “La Belle Sauvage” é um misto de realidade e fantasia, e logo de início iremos desembocar numa estalagem real com vista para o Tamisa — um daqueles locais idílicos que só de olhar apetece visitar:


E já que aqui estamos -- já que chegámos à magnífica Trout Inn, permitam que vos convide a entrar. Vou fazê-lo legando-vos este pequeno excerto, que  terá uma dupla função -- conduzi-los ao interior da belíssima Trout, e simultaneamente, deixar-vos a chorar 😢 por mais:

“No rio Tamisa, três milhas acima do centro de Oxford, a alguma distância do local onde os magníficos colégios Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol e duas dúzias de outros competiam pela supremacia nas corridas de barcos, onde a cidade era apenas uma coleção de torres e pináculos distantes acima dos níveis brumosos de Port Meadow, aí se erguia o priorado de Godstow, onde gentis freiras se dedicavam às suas tare­fas sagradas.

Na margem oposta ao priorado havia uma estalagem chamada Truta, um edifício antigo de pedra irregular, um lugar confor­tável. Tinha um terraço sobre o rio, onde pavões (um chamado Norman e o outro Barry) passeavam majestosamente por entre os clientes, servindo-se, sem hesitação, de restos e, ocasionalmente, erguendo a cabeça para lançar gritos ferozes e sem significado. Havia um salão com um bar onde a nobreza, se os Académicos podem ser considerados nobres, bebia cerveja e fumava cachimbo. Havia um bar público onde barqueiros e trabalhadores do campo se sentavam junto da lareira, jogavam dardos, ou permaneciam junto do bar conversando, discutindo, ou simplesmente embebedando-se em silêncio. Havia uma cozinha onde, todos os dias, a mulher do estalajadeiro assava um enorme naco de carne, com um conjunto complexo[…]”
Profile Image for Nemo ☠️ (pagesandprozac).
879 reviews411 followers
November 14, 2017
objectively speaking, if you divorce it from HDM, it's probably a 5 star. however, considering how utterly superb HDM is, and considering this a prequel, giving it the same score would imply that i found them to be on a par, or at least nearly so. and i did not.

i liked it a lot, but it just wasn't, y'know, His Dark Materials. typically good pullman-esque character building though, and i am very excited to see where the story goes next.
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
680 reviews3,951 followers
December 20, 2019
must a book be good? Is it not enough for me to just enjoy the daemons and get excited when a character from the original trilogy appears??

Profile Image for Emma.
2,509 reviews854 followers
September 23, 2019
reread September 2019
Pure magic.

Wonderful! It feels simpler than Northern Lights, but that may be because we are already used to this alternative Oxford. There are a few new elements of fantasy that I hope will come into play in the sequel. Happily the sequel is already written and should be published later this year. Pullman said in an interview that this was neither a prequel or a sequel, but an equel. But it read like a prequel to me. Malcolm was a most endearing character. I read this with whispersync and the audio was absolutely excellent- especially the hyena who was particularly insane sounding! If you liked His Dark Materials, this will be right up your Street. Recommended.
Profile Image for James.
430 reviews
March 24, 2018
‘La Belle Sauvage’ (2017) is the first part in Philip Pullman’s ‘The Book of Dust’ – companion trilogy and prequel to his much revered and critically acclaimed ‘His Dark Materials’ series (1995-2000). As such, ‘Belle Sauvage’ is set in the same parallel world(s) of an alternative Oxford, London, England et al, where we find ourselves again in the realm of daemons, alethiometers, witches and of course Dust.

The story of ‘Belle Sauvage’ centres on Malcolm and Alice, their relationship, the quest or odyssey that they find themselves on and along with their foundling, the backdrop of a near apocalyptic flood and an extremely dark, evil and unrelenting pursuer – this all feels very biblical and elemental in nature. With Malcolm and Alice – there are clear echoes (presumably intended) of Lyra and Will from ‘Dark Materials’. As with ‘Dark Materials’ this is also a coming of age story, about growing up, relationships and the advent of emerging adolescence. There is much here also about the rise of religious fundamentalism and the fight against totalitarianism, which is simply but very powerfully told.

Although ‘Belle Sauvage’ explores and expands on similar themes to those of ‘Dark Materials’ – ‘Belle Sauvage’ feels somehow more grown-up, more adult than ‘Dark Materials’. In many senses, Pullman’s new book feels perhaps even darker in nature and certainly more gothic than the preceding trilogy.

Unsurprisingly ‘Belle Sauvage’ is written with the literary skill and dexterity that we’d expect from the accomplished pen of Philip Pullman – although there is nothing specifically new here thus far that has been added to the world so brilliantly created in the original ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy. Neither does ‘Belle Sauvage’ seem to possess the depth and complexity that were evident in ‘Dark Materials’ – having said that, ‘Belle Sauvage’ is of course merely book one in ‘The Book of Dust’ trilogy and as such – we have no real idea of where Pullman is taking us with this new set of stories…

Well paced and compellingly delivered - let's see where Pullman will take us next..
Profile Image for Brierly.
155 reviews105 followers
January 11, 2018
We return into the world of Lyra Belacqua and His Dark Materials with The Book of Dust, a companion triology that begins with La Belle Sauvage, taking place during Lyra's infancy. As with the original trilogy, The Book of Dust shines when it comes to world-building and classical adaptation. Anyone who has started The Golden Compass will be drawn in by daemons, animal-like creatures that represent your soul. Your daemon shape-shifts throughout your childhood before settling into one form, a lifelong companion that comforts and protects you. And as His Dark Materials rewrites Paradise Lost; so does The Book of Dust and The Faerie Queene.

I had a unique reading experience with this one... I felt like I was rushing through it, desperate on unraveling its mysteries. But the beauty is in the details. From the beginning, Lyra remains the protagonist, despite the POV from Malcolm. All events pivot around Lyra and her infancy with Pantalimon is truly wonderful. If you have ever wondered about birth, death, and daemonology, The Book of Dust will answer some of your questions. Ultimately, though, I still do not like the way Pullman writes youth romantic relationships. He writes well when discussing an individual child but when he starts talking about young love, whether in this book or in The Amber Spyglass, it doesn't sit right. Take it from someone married to her high school sweetheart.

So what happens in the narrative? Spoilers aside, we know Lyra spends her youth under scholastic sanctuary at Jordan College, Oxford. She's a highly coveted child that will fulfill a heretical prophecy, so numerous organizations want her dead or in captivity. So that's where she is headed... Pullman faces the impossible prequel task of writing towards a set ending. Therefore, since most of the book follows a heist-novel pacing (in which infant Lyra is the grand prize), the suspense is diluted because child Lyra will be safe from imminent harm. But as the next two novels in the trilogy are set post-Lyra's Oxford, I sense that La Belle Sauvage exists primarily as exposition. You discover more about Dust and alethiometers, as well as the Magisterium. And The Secret Commonwealth picks up when Lyra is 20 and an undergraduate... how exciting! Malcolm (and Alice) clearly care deeply for Lyra, so I hope they can continue to influence her life in a positive manner. Final note: I am also reading now that Malcolm is featured in Lyra's Oxford which I plan to read before the next release.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews17 followers
November 4, 2017


Description: 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 . . .

1/10: We open in Oxford, at The Trout Inn, with a pot boy named Malcolm Polstead, and the whisper of a mysterious baby girl, hidden at the local convent, in the care of the nuns...

The Trout, Godstow, Oxfordshire

2/10: the whisper of a mysterious baby girl, hidden at the local convent, in the care of the nuns...

3/10: Malcolm begins work for Dr Relf

4/10: Malcolm finds an unexpected visitor at The Trout, a man whose dæmon is a snow leopard

Godstow Abbey The ruins of a 12th century abbey, or nunnery, stand in a meadow beside the River Thames at Godstow, just north of the city. Godstow Abbey is famed as the burial place of 'Fair Rosamund' de Clifford, Henry II's mistress.

5/10: Malcolm discovers Bonneville and his terrifying hyena dæmon lurking around the priory

Lord Asriel

6/10: Malcolm returns to see Alice at the priory, to discover who has been helping Bonneville

7/10: Dr Relf braves the flood to bring news to Jordan College.

8/10: Alice and Malcolm discover that Bonneville is not the only one hunting them

9/10: On a mysterious island, Malcolm and Alice must protect Lyra from an otherwordly stranger

10/10: As La Belle Savage heads towards London, Malcolm and Alice must find a place of safety.

See also:Philip Pullman offers first look at His Dark Materials follow-up The Book of Dust
Profile Image for Sara.
1,123 reviews364 followers
January 28, 2018
A prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy, with Lyra as an 8 month old baby? I've waited nearly 20 years for this book, and the anticipation during the countdown to release nearly killed me. I also knew going into this that I shouldn't compare it to the trilogy, and for that reason alone I put off reading it. I shouldn't of though, because as with everything Phillip Pullman writes I fell in love with these characters and this world.

The tone of the novel is much darker, I feel, than His Dark Materials. Malcolm is the same age as Lyra in the trilogy, but the themes addressed are that little bit more intense. Lyra for the most part was protected and treasured from abject harm, whereas Malcolm and Alice are faced with a number of socially immoral confrontations. I think where Phillip Pullman excels is in his young adult/child main characters. He never shies away from making them curious, complex and forcing them into these awful situations. Malcolm is no exception. He's deeply interesting, intelligent yet naive and likeable. There's something essentially very pure about him and his love for this baby. Alice is more complex. At first she comes across as very off putting, snide and mean. But we see as time develops that this is doen to a deep seated amount of self loathing and doubt she holds about herself. It takes Malcolm to bring out her good side.

I couldn't mention characters withiut bringing up the man with the hyena deamon. Everything about him screamed revulsion, loathing and horror. Her contempt for life, constantly knawing on her stump, cackling and voiding her bladder and his (essentially) self harm from hitting her made me feel reviled. It's been a while since I've had such strong contempt for a character, and I'm honestly still not entirely sure I have the full feel of who he is as a character. He was very interesting. I also loved the little introductions and expansion on familiar characters Farder Coram, Lord Asriel and Dr. Relf. My little heart did a leap when we see Farder Coram and his beautiful cat deamon again, younger and more whole than when Lyra meets him in the future, and it's alluded we'll meet him again in The Secret Commonwealth. Mrs Coulter is also mentioned a number of times, and we see her once in the presence of Malcolm and Dr. Relf which was wonderful to read. I would have loved to have seen more of her, and see more of the relationship she seems to share with the man with the hyena deamon, as I felt this wasn't fully explored or explained.

The plot itself feels like two distinct novels. The first part follows in a very similar vein to Northern Lights and Lyra's Oxford, as we discover more of Oxford and its inhabitants as Malcolm becomes embroiled in a murder mystery with spies and secret acorns. It's quite slow in its unravelling and presentation of the action, and I admit I did struggle at first to get to know these characters. The second part, called 'The Flood' is more dynamic and I enjoyed it immensely. I loved seeing Malcolm and Alice's relationship develop, and the numerous strange situations they find themselves in as they try and keep Lyra safe. It does delve into the realms of magical realism near the end, and went a little 'out there' which I wasn't necessarily expecting, but I still really enjoyed it.

I did think the ending was a little abrupt, and left a few doors open as to Malcolm and Alice's fate in the future, but it also left me desperate for the next book. This was worth the wait.
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews194 followers
December 4, 2017
From the moment its existence was announced, there hasn’t been a novel I’ve looked forward to more than La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in The Book of Dust, Philip Pullman’s prequel trilogy to His Dark Materials. I had little doubt the book would be good; the pleasant surprise is that it turned out to be great, if not quite the unparalleled classic that is The Golden Compass/Northern Lights. Set a decade or so before, La Belle Sauvage is the story of eleven-year-old Malcolm, who, with the help of teenager Alice, must protect an uncannily charismatic infant named Lyra from a psychotic disgraced scientist, agents of the Consistorial Court of Discipline, and an extraordinary natural disaster with fantastical and frightening implications. Like most prequels, it is best understood in the context of the stories written before it, but new readers should enjoy it all the same - it is a classically structured chivalric romance, in which a hero devoted to his ideals sets out on an adventure full of wonder and thrills. La Belle Sauvage is often dark and scary and violent, though still appropriate for (less squeamish) middle grade readers.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews389 followers
January 21, 2018
I'd like to say, right at the top of the review, that a three-starred review does not mean I didn't like this book.

Pullman's original His Dark Materials trilogy made an immense impact on me when I was younger, maybe 12 or 13, and there's much of the same to be enjoyed here. Yet, for all the joy I had in returning to a world filled with daemons, religious tyranny, and Dust, La Belle Sauvage does not land with the same impact as I remembered all that time ago.

I'll admit that this is partially my fault. I failed to read even a Wikipedia summary of the original trilogy, which left me scratching my head when objects like the alethiometer land on the page. In fact, it took quite a while for me to remember that the titular compass of the first novel in the original trilogy was one such object. I think I would have found the book more rewarding had I reviewed the mythology of the original books. The relationship of various characters to one another (barring Lyra and her parents) also took some time to sort out, and I left the book wondering who appeared in the original trilogy and who was entirely new.

Despite all of this, it is hard not to be charmed by new lead Malcolm Polstead who bursts on to the scene with precocious intelligence, a moral compass that always points true north, and a bevy of practical skills. While working at his parents' inn, Malcolm begins to overhear conversations meant to be kept quiet, and slowly insinuates himself into a game of secret societies who each have designs upon baby Lyra. Malcolm's warm disposition and curiosity makes for a compelling young protagonist, and I can imagine relating to his struggles when I was his age. Unfortunately, I found myself more taken with the adults who stew in the background, hatching plans that concern the dramatic phenomenon of the original trilogy.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the revelation that the first half of the book is more or less a spy novel. Malcolm is recruited by a character who (I believe) was in the original trilogy in order to understand the Church's plans for Lyra. From there the book segues into a story of Malcolm being forced to steal Lyra away on his canoe, La Belle Sauvage. The second half definitely reads a lot quicker than the first and suggests some interesting wrinkles to the world as I remember it.

The book does feel as if it could have been shaved down to a more workmanlike final draft. There are passages that delve into the entirety of Malcolm's thought process that I found tedious as the book went on. With this said, the book is not aimed at seasoned, 20-something readers, it's meant for a younger audience who are beginning to come to an understanding of motives, thought processes, etc. It would have been a bit nicer if the books had aged up with their audience, but I would have been endlessly pleased to discover and unfolding second chapter of the series when I finished the first trilogy all those years ago.

La Belle Sauvage ends abruptly with the promise that more is on the way. Indeed, before reading this book I heard the sequel, The Secret Commonwealth, would take place 20 years after this book, and follow a young-adult Lyra after the end of the original trilogy. Colour me intrigued at this exciting trilogy structure that moves around in time. I do hope we see more of Malcolm and Alice in the sequel, and I hope Pullman gets into the nitty-gritty of what he's been cooking up after respectably setting the table in La Belle Sauvage.

What's more, three and a half stars gives the sequels a lot of room to blow my socks off! Here's looking forward to the second instalment of The Book of Dust sometime in 2018.

[3.5 stars]
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,893 followers
July 14, 2021
I am not quite what I can say about this one, I found it fantastically good fun, a plot driven children's adventure story.

I thought that the language was a bit simpler than in His Dark Materials, maybe my recollection of that series is wrong though, or maybe I am right and this book is aimed at a slighter younger audience, but then less of the background setting is explained, for example the relationship between each person and their Daemon, so I think this one works better if you have read His Dark Materials, but on the third hand if you have read that series then that removes what could be a source of plot tension.

Anyhow, this book is set some years before the events of His Dark Materials, Lyra is a baby, a few months old, we meet some other old acquaintances, proportionately younger, but the story mainly concerns some new characters who give us a different perspective, one much less privileged than Lyra's showing that there is an even greater degree of, or perhaps simply more obvious, inequality in the alternative Britain in this book.

The first part is an engaging story of espionage, the second sweeps us along in a great flood that transforms the Thames valley, this reminded me slightly of The Dark is Rising in which a great flood in the Thames valley similarly reveals a mythic landscape.

It struck me how profoundly religious Pullman's Lyra chronicles are, this alternative Britain is full of mythic and supernatural beings of the sort which in actual Britain are mostly only found on the page, witches, fairies, river wardens in the service of Old Father Thames, and nuns .

Again as in His Dark Materials this is a moral universe mostly painted in shades and half tones. While there are clear 'bad guys' - organised religion and its supporters, those opposed to them are mostly shown to be morally compromised too, but then we're familiar from His Dark Materials that liars and murderers are also heroes - in the right context.
Profile Image for Calista.
4,071 reviews31.3k followers
August 9, 2018
One of my favorite trilogies I’ve read is ‘His Dark Materials’. It was such a brilliant series. This is the prequel trilogy to the original. I wonder if there really needed to be a trilogy. I do know this book needed to happen. What a wild ride it is. It starts off one way and in the middle it becomes a completely different book.

Lyra is a baby in this book and she is vulnerable here. Luckily she has Malcolm to look after her interests from afar. The book has fairies and nuns, conspiracies and floods, adventure and suspense. Dust is still the coveted item in the story.

It’s easy to see how this ties in and leads right into the main trilogy. I thought it was well thought out and Philip’s characters and style shine through here. He creates tone and conflict so well. I connected with Malcolm, our new protagonist of this story. He is a brave soul.

Malcolm undertakes a hero’s journey through this strange new world for the sake of an innocent baby. His companion Alice is along for the ride and together they brave many perils.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,563 reviews2,937 followers
November 9, 2017
This is a book which has been long anticipated by most. I read His Dark Materials both as a child and as an adult just a year or so ago. I loved the series both times through, and so I was very excited to hear that this book was going to be set before the HDM series and follow the young childhood of Lyra and the guardians who have protected her...

In this story we're following a young boy called Malcolm who is the main protagonist. He's a sweet-natured if inquisitive child, and the adventure he goes on in this story is all thanks to love. He's a young boy who is keen to learn and curious to a fault, which makes him an asset to those around him. He's forever trying to protect people he loves, and he enjoys exploring in his canoe: La Belle Sauvage.

The story starts when three men turn up at the pub where Malcolm works and which his family run. He's curious about them and they start asking him questions about a young baby who may be nearby. As things unravel we find out more about who the baby is and why she is in the area where Malcolm lives. We also find out a lot more about the properties of Dust and the theory behind what it is, along with more on the Alethiometer and how to read it. I would say this book is really an exposition about some of the things we touch on in the HDM series, and I think that this is all set up for what will happen in the later books.

Another element I enjoyed about this one were the bizarre twists in the second half. We end up getting some magic and fey influence, and this was something I didn't quite expect and found pretty interesting. Particularly the main characters visit a land where they seem invisible to everyone and then the Giant of this land tells them why it is this way and the reasoning was highly interesting to me.

Daemons are again a big part of Lyra's world, and seeing the way they are so interwoven and vital in this society was great. I really love the Daemons and the way they portray so much about their human counterparts.

In the end, I think this is a very solid if slightly different story. It starts out fairly slow and the second half is very fast. I do think it felt quite simple at times, and I wanted a few more surprises earlier on, but I enjoyed it a lot and I will certainly keep reading the series. 4*s overall.
Profile Image for Peter.
503 reviews609 followers
October 30, 2017
What a joy it is to return to the world of daemons and alethiometers! The original His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the greatest reading experiences I have ever known, and I could not have been more excited at the prospect of a new episode. I am delighted to report that it did not disappoint.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the hero of this tale. A kind, intelligent boy, he lives above The Trout inn, which is owned by his parents. Malcolm spends his evenings serving guests at the pub, along with an older girl called Alice, but he also runs errands for the nuns who live in a priory across the river. When three strange men arrive at The Trout one night, everything changes. They are somehow connected to a baby girl named Lyra, who has been discreetly entrusted to the nuns. Lyra is a very special child, and dangerous people want to capture her, none moreso than the creepy Gerard Bonneville. With the aid of his trusty canoe, and an unlikely companion, Malcolm will have a major part to play in Lyra's survival.

The story is split into two main sections. The first involves Malcolm being drawn into the world of the resistance, a shadowy cabal of spies and secrets. And the second half is a gruelling, breathless journey set during a biblical flood.

As in the previous trilogy, religion has a big part to play in this story. Society is ruled by the oppressive Magisterium, a totalitarian regime that regards science and knowledge as the enemy. They have the power to kidnap and torture anyone who dares to question their authority. This wicked organisation even sets up a movement called the League of St Alexander, which encourages schoolchildren to inform on their teachers. But not all religious figures in the book are evil - the nuns that Malcolm befriends are a benevolent and well-intentioned bunch.

Phillip Pullman's rich imagination is once again a treasure to behold, but I think the reason La Belle Sauvage works so well lies in the strength of its main character. Malcolm is as brave and as noble as any hero you would like to meet. He is always tenacious and resourceful, especially in times of great danger. But he is also incredibly thoughtful, caring deeply about the fate of Lyra from the moment he first lays eyes on her. Even in the slow thaw of his relationship with the prickly Alice, I couldn't help cheering him on.

If I do have a slight criticism of this story, it's that it doesn't quite possess the same level of ingenuity that the previous trilogy was famous for. It's a more straightforward tale, where the truth slowly unravels and an almighty chase ensues through a dreamlike landscape. But it is always thrilling and gripping, full of memorable characters and unpredictable twists. La Belle Sauvage is the worthy beginning of an exciting new trilogy, and I will be first in line for the next installment.
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