La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

17 years after the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy was published, Philip Pullman finally released the first in another trilogy set in the same world. As some of this trilogy will take place before and following His Dark Materials, Pullman has described The Book of Dust as an ‘equel’ rather than sequel or prequel.

In the first novel, La Belle Sauvage, Lyra Belacqua, the protagonist of His Dark Materials is only a baby. She has been placed in the care of a group of nuns, but when a catastrophic flood hits Oxford, a young boy called Malcolm rescues her from both the water and her enemies and tries to take her in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, along the Thames to her father, Lord Asriel.

This is without a doubt darker than its predecessors – there’s swearing, rape and child abuse, and Bourneville with his hyena daemon is a horrific villain. Pullman’s storytelling is still fantastic, and this is a gripping read. My only very small criticism is the rescue attempt by Malcolm in the canoe becomes a little repetitive by the end. There are also a lot of unanswered questions and unexplained symbolism, but I’m hopeful that these will be explained in the future novels.

A fantastic companion to His Dark Materials, and well worth a read.


His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

During December and January I reread the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I’d been wanting to read the books again for a while and had never got round to it, but I was finally motivated by a couple of booktubers that I watch, Jen Campbell and Holly (Library at the Edge of the World) who were hosting a readalong during December.

I’d first read the trilogy when I was around 12 years old, and I remember that I thoroughly enjoyed them as an adventure story, but I knew that some things had gone over my head (for example, the concept of Dust!). I definitely noticed a lot more layers to the story while reading as an adult, such as science, philosophy and religion. I was also more aware this time that Pullman had loosely based his story on Paradise Lost and flipped it on its head in some ways, such as the idea of original sin being bad. I have not read Paradise Lost so I’m sure that there are many more references/inversions that I have missed. The novels raise a lot of important points about of the church, particularly the Catholic Church. I know that Pullman has been criticised by some circles about this, but speaking as a Christian I didn’t feel that he was being critical of religion as such, but of the amount of power and influence that certain religious organisations have, and in many ways I agree with some of his points.

Pullman’s characterisation is wonderful, not only of humans but animals, witches, angels and he also invents new species, such as the delightful mulefa in The Amber Spyglass. Lyra is a wonderful protagonist, and the eventual love story between her and Will is beautiful. I also loved the jumps between different worlds, and of course the idea of daemons. Pullman’s writing can be very moving and there are several moments that had me in tears, such as Lyra finding Tony Makarios and the daemons in Northern Lights, Lyra having to leave Pantalaimon, and the final moments between Lyra and Will in The Amber Spyglass.

Of the three books, I think my favourite is Northern Lights, even though some of my favourite characters, (such as Will) don’t appear until the later books. Northern Lights grabs your attention immediately and pulls you straight into the story, introducing the reader to Lyra’s world which seems to similar to ours but yet also so different.

These novels can simply be read as an adventure story but what makes them so special is the multilayered aspect of them. I’m sure if I read them again I will notice even more. Very clever writing, and a magical plot.