Stephen Hayes's Reviews > La Belle Sauvage

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
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bookshelves: fantasy, our-books

I quite enjoyed Philip Pullman's series His Dark Materials, though the third one, The Amber Spyglass was disappointing (my review here: Evangelising atheism: Philip Pullman | Notes from underground).

Then I found a shop with dozens of copies of the prequel, La Belle Sauvage going cheap -- they'd clearly over-ordered in the expectation of a rush of demand, like the Harry Potter books, but it didn't turn out like that. And if the demand was disappointing, so, to some extent, was the book.

The protagonist is eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, an innkeeper's son, who loves to spend his free time paddling his canoe, La Belle Sauvage. He often paddles across the river to a convent of Calvinist nuns (don't ask), who are given a rather mysterious baby, Lyra Belaqua, the later protagonist of His Dark Materials to look after. But others have an interest in this baby, and and clearly do not wish her well.

After prolonged heavy rains the river floods, and Malcolm, aided by fifteen-year-old Alice, the kitchen girl from his parents' inn, rescues Lyra from the flood, and, swept away by the swollen river, decides to take her to her father's house in Chelsea. The six of them (three children and their daemons) have various adventures, with dangers and narrow escapes, en route to London.

It's not a bad story, quite exciting in parts, but after His Dark Materials it falls a bit flat. Pullman's world-building seems to slip in a number of places. In His Dark Materials one of the attractive things is the different alternative worlds he creates, with greater or lesser divergences from our world. But in La Belle Sauvage he seems to have grown impatient with it, and the history and geography that Malcolm studies at school seem to be the history and geography of our world rather than of Lyra's world in Northern Lights.

The differences in language are maintained in a perfunctory way, but without consistent explanation. There is an anbaric drill, but no anbaric torches -- everyone uses lanterns. Then suddenly an anbaric torch appears, and one wonders why they didn't use them earlier.

As in Lyra's world they use "philosophical instruments", but in Malcolm's world they are used to achieve "scientific management of resources". which pricks the bubble of illusion. We are back in Will's Oxford, only without telephones and with people having daemons.

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Reading Progress

November 12, 2019 – Started Reading
November 12, 2019 – Shelved
November 12, 2019 –
page 5
November 13, 2019 –
page 56
November 20, 2019 –
page 356
November 22, 2019 – Shelved as: fantasy
November 22, 2019 – Shelved as: our-books
November 22, 2019 – Finished Reading

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