Published: October 19, 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House)
Synopsis: 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 . . .
When you hear that there is a new book in one of your all-time favorite series your first thought is always going to be excitement followed by an incredible amount of worry that it’s not as good as the original. And while La Belle Sauvage is no His Dark Materials, it was totally amazing.
For one thing this book had the amazing world that Phillip Pullman created in the His Dark Materials. I am such a huge fan of that world that seriously anything you give me with that setting I will read. Seriously. I’ve read all the novella in addition to the original series multiple times. The world is just so creative and imaginative. In La Belle Sauvage we explore the world a little more but it’s actually a very narrow area. Most of the book is spent in Oxford (although not the actual university) and a little bit in London. And yet we still learn so much more about the world. I love the way this series perfectly combines science fiction and fantasy to make something all its own. La Belle Sauvage absolutely did that. But I’d say this one leaned a little bit more on the fantasy aspects of the world. There was a real magic to it all and I loved that. But I loved everything about the world. It was imaginative and immersive.
Part of why I think the book was so immersive is that I listened to the audiobook. And seriously, it was an amazing audio. My last reread of the His Dark Materials series was via audio and I loved that it was a full cast. I was nervous about one narrator in this one, but it was amazing. Michael Sheen was a completely fantastic narrator. It didn’t matter who the character he was narrating for he completely embodied them. He did such a good job that sometimes I even find got it was only one narrator. Not to mention he did that amazing thing where when the plot got more thrilling he sped up his narration. He pulled me in and didn’t let me go until the very end.
But that’s a good way to describe this plot. It definitely pulled me in. I wasn’t exactly sure what this book was going to be about (not like I cared) but I did know it was a prequel for the original series. And that’s what this book was. It was sort of an origin story for Lyra. She wasn’t our main character but she was a huge part of the plot. We learned about how things got to be the way it was when we first entered he world but it was still a story all on its own. And it felt like a very topical story. Pullman has always done a great job making social commentary interesting and subtle while still making you think. With everything that is going on in today’s world it’s rife for this sort of thing. And it was completely fantastic in that way. But all that aside, this was a thrilling read. There was so much tension and drama. It had me on the edge of my seat and caught me by surprise many times. Pullman knows how to write a thrilling book and this was no exception.
As far as the characters they were everything I expect in a Phillip Pullman book. They were complex and sympathetic. I was a little nervous about reading a new book without Lyra as the main character but I don’t know why I was worried. Pullman did just as amazing a job of getting me to fall for Malcolm. He was such a great main character. Fiercely loyal, brave, smart, resourceful, willing to help anyone and everyone. Seriously, he was such a Hufflepuff. But I think the best thing about him was that he loved Lyra just as much as I do. Because yes, Lyra was a big part of this book. Baby Lyra. And she wasn’t the only character from the original series. We got to see the origins of a few other characters I love and love to hate. It was great seeing them pop up and learn how they got to be where they are when we first meet them. That includes some of the more odious characters like Lord Azriel and Ms. Coulter, but they were not the only odious characters. This is a book with plenty of characters who I wasn’t sure if I should trust or not. Those are the kinds of characters I love and I love that about this book too.
My one criticism however is with the pacing. It’s a thrilling book, yes, but it’s a little bit slow at first. I know that it takes awhile before we can get to the good stuff but this book felt like two different stories. Honestly it was similar to The Golden Compass in that way. The first part was just a “wandering around where we are” exposition before we go off on an adventure. I know we need those slower parts but I just don’t enjoy them as much as the actual adventure.
But all in all this was an absolutely amazing read. I loved being able to dive back into the world of His Dark Materials. It had an engrossing world, compelling characters, and a thrilling plot. It was everything I was hoping it would be.
I give La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman 9.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read La Belle Sauvage? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!