Returning to Lyra’s Oxford was always going to be a challenge for Philip Pullman, but in La Belle Sauvage, Volume I of The Book Of Dust, he’s done it to perfection. It’s got drama, adventure, intrigue and a whole lot of depth, while also giving us an exciting look at the back story to some of the big name characters that we got to know in His Dark Materials.
The audiobook is read by the hugely talented actor, Michael Sheen, and it makes for an edge-of-your-seat roller-coaster ride from start to end. His ability to embody each and every character, combined with his flare for the big dramatic sections of the story, makes it very hard to put down. Although, in all fairness, the strength of the plot, dialogue and narrative help a lot with this. We can easily see this being an audiobook that gets more than one run through over the years, especially with two more books in the trilogy still to come.
The story is essentially a prequel to Pullman’s previous sci-fi/fantasy fiction epic, His Dark Materials and it’s set just after Lyra’s birth as she’s placed in the care of nuns due to the fractured relationship between her unconventional and prominent parents. However, the story itself is told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, who visits the Priory of St. Rosamund to help the nuns.
It doesn’t waste too much time before ramping up the pace with the introduction of a number of interesting adult characters as the powers that be seem to be turning all of their attention to the situation. Malcolm finds himself in the centre of it all and, with the help of his dæmon Asta, he makes for a trustworthy, brave and adventurous fulcrum for the plot to turn around.
The adventure builds towards a coming torrent with the introduction of a dark and charming man with a savage three-legged hyena for a dæmon. He’s instantly one of the darkest antagonists you’ll find in literature and he makes for a dogged enemy for Malcolm. His arrival sparks a series of events that leads to Malcolm on the run with 15-year-old Alice, who works at his parents’ pub, The Trout, and the baby Lyra in his boat, La Belle Sauvage.
It’s this odyssey that takes up the majority of La Belle Sauvage and in a weird way, you kind of never want it to end. It’s a dark tunnel of a ride as the trio face the might of the Magisterium with both of Lyra’s parents, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asrial, in the background, foreground and centre of it all.
The book delves into the depths of both sci-fi and fantasy wonder with the otherworldly science and magic that dominates Pullman’s work. It also swirls in a lot of big questions about the soul, spirituality and religion.
La Belle Sauvage makes for an absorbing, consuming read that will leave you exhilarated and slightly spent by the time you make it to the clamorous shoreline. It makes for a wonderous start for Philip Pullman’s The Book Of Dust trilogy and a fittingly incredible prequel and the beginnings of the equel to His Dark Materials.
The audiobook is particularly enchanting with Michael Sheen at the helm of one of the sci-fi/fantasy books of 2017. It’ll be followed up, hopefully, in 2018, by the second part of The Book Of Dust, called The Secret Commenwealth, which will pick up with Lyra as a 20-year-old undergraduate. If it’s as impressive as La Belle Sauvage then it should be another must read from Pullman. You can follow along with the latest from the author on his official Twitter page or website.
La Belle Sauvage review: 5/5
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