Book Review: La Belle Sauvage

‘War asks many people to do unreasonable things…’

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As with Stephen King, Philip Pullman is having a bit of a moment. BBC’s wonderful adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy has pushed those books back into the public consciousness and Pullman himself has returned to the streets of Oxford with a new trilogy entitled The Book of Dust

La Belle Sauvage takes us back roughly 12 years prior to the events of Northern Lights and finds Lyra as a baby under the care of a convent of nuns following the departure of Lord Asriel. Instead of Lyra, the focus falls on eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead. A conscientious young man with a healthy appetite, Malcolm makes for a likeable and compelling protagonist, something that certainly helps make the move away from the more familiar characters a little less jarring.

Set against the backdrop of the Great Flood often referenced throughout His Dark Materials, this first book in a new trilogy is just as intensely wonderful and beautifully drawn as anything that preceded it. The heightened fantastical state brought about by the flood gives Pullman free reign to explore the deepest depths of his fierce imagination and this results in what is undoubtedly the most psychedelic entry in the Lyra Belacqua saga.

Weighing in at a lofty 560 pages, La Belle Sauvage takes its time in introducing a new wave of characters whilst finding spade for the occasional thrilling reacquaintance with the characters we already know and love (or hate). Pullman seamlessly links the two worlds in a way that is inventive and irresistible resulting in a work that, at its best, is as good as anything that he has written – despite the distinct lack of a talking bears.

I was skeptical going into La Belle Sauvage about whether Pullman could convincingly return to this world and still conjure some magic from its characters. I needn’t have worried. The man is a master of his art.

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