The Book Of Dust (Volume One) La Belle Sauvage

by Philip Pullman

At our present moment in history parties are banned, but within the pages of this fantasy novel I discovered an alternative world of excitement. Philip Pullman’s trilogy (which expands upon His Dark Materials published in 1995) has spawned a tribe of devotees and though I may be late to their party I’m glad that at last, during the pandemic, I’ve joined them.

The Book Of Dust, Part 1 casts an irresistible spell. La Belle Sauvage is the name of a canoe that belongs to Malcolm Polstead, ‘a sensitive boy’ whose parents run a pub in Oxford called The Trout Inn. For those unfamiliar with Pullman’s universe, all his human characters are accompanied everywhere by daemons; their constant animal companions and the guardians of their souls. Malcolm’s daemon, Asta, shares Malcolm’s many interests; from eavesdropping in the pub, where he helps serve his parents’ customers, to assisting the nuns at the nearby priory of St Rosamund. His natural curiosity leads to an intriguing relationship with a scholar slash spy (sigh), who asks Malcolm to keep an eye on the nuns in exchange for fireside chats and access to a limitless library. The nuns have been entrusted to care for a valuable charge, the baby Lyra, who has seemingly been abandoned at birth and is in dire need of protection. When an evil stranger with a three-legged Hyena daemon attempts to kidnap Lyra, a flood of epic proportions engulfs Oxford; the priory is laid waste, the nuns drowned and quick-thinking Malcolm and his accomplice, Alice, rescue Lyra, setting off at once on a life-changing adventure. Their aim is to deliver the baby to safety at any cost and only they know where her real safety lies. In their faithful craft, these two brave children on the cusp of adulthood, must elude the powerful forces that threaten to destroy them.

Pullman truly is a master storyteller. His writing is spare and wise, complex and poetic. The book provokes deeper thinking on matters philosophical, religious and scientific while delivering a page turning odyssey you’ll never forget.

Reviewed for Zimmermann by Sophie Lee.