I never really appreciated Northern Lights as a child. It all seemed a bit long and confusing to me, and somebody told me to start with The Amber Spyglass, which made no sense! I finally reread them when I was 18 and absolutely loved them, although there was always a sense of not quite ‘getting them.’
When I heard that Philip Pullman was writing a new trilogy linked to the idea of Dust and featuring Lyra, I was more excited than I had been about a book in a long time. It took me back to the Harry Potter excitement of my childhood. I embarked on a reading marathon, reading the first three in a couple of weeks. Coming to them as an adult, I can’t understand how they were ever marketed to children! Only at the age of 30 am I finally beginning to understand them.
What is La Belle Sauvage?
La Belle Sauvage is the first instalment of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, The Book of Dust. Set in Lyra’s world, the story is set before the events of Northern Lights. Many of the characters are familiar, especially Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. Lyra and Pantalimon make appearances as babies. The novel also introduces a number of new characters, and the story is strong enough to stand alone. While I would absolutely recommend reading the other trilogy, it is certainly possible to enjoy La Belle Sauvage without any prior knowledge of Pullman’s world.
Was It What I Expected?
I didn’t really know what to expect from La Belle Sauvage, so I was never going to be disappointed! I knew it was set within Lyra’s world, but I tried to avoid any reviews and spoilers. The book is a departure from the original trilogy, but not in a bad way. The novel seems written for children in terms of language, but again Pullman draws strongly from adult themes. This novel lacks the complexity of the others, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next two include Pullman’s signature philosophical musings about religion.
The story follows a young boy, Malcolm, and this helps keep the book within the realms of children’s literature. He is likeable and it’s hard not to become invested in his story. The novel also has scenes more adult in nature, especially those involving the Magisterium. Malcolm embarks on an adventure to keep Lyra safe, sailing across England in his boat. The novel reminded me of old boys’ adventure stories, which gave it a nostalgic feeling.
What shocked me most about this book was the inclusion of content of a sexual nature. While Pullman doesn’t explicitly describe it, there are clear references to child abuse and sexual interactions being used as payment and for bribery. I praise Pullman for this, as I would assume the majority of his audience are now adult readers. Pullman also uses subtlety here, and none of the references are overt enough to be understood by a younger readership.
I was a little apprehensive before reading La Belle Sauvage. I’d just read The Cursed Child and was disappointed. I couldn’t help but think that literary franchises should be left alone and not resurrected. Talented authors should instead focus on writing new things. However, Pullman has managed to relight the original magic which telling a fresh story. I am excited to read the next instalment!
Have you read La Belle Sauvage? What did you think?