In the early 00’s when I was working in a bookstore, Philip Pullman’s third volume of his Dark materials Trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, was published and there was quite a fuss over it, even being longlisted for The Booker of that year. I decided to give the trilogy a try with Northern Lights and I found it a bit pretentious in places, sometimes I was confused. A year later I read Northern Lights again and my feelings did not change.
So why did I buy La Belle Sauvage? because I read that it was a Dark Materials prequel and I thought that would help me appreciate the trilogy and get me to read it properly.
I simply loved reading La Belle Sauvage. It was one of those books where I tried to snatch little pieces here and there during my free moments. Pullman’s prose just flows and his knack of simplifying complex thoughts and elaborate world building made the story an enjoyable read.
The plot concerns Malcolm, a bright boy who helps his parents run a tavern in Oxford. One day a group of people come over and ask him about the priory next door. When the men leave Malcolm discovers a baby being delivered there. Upon further investigation he finds out that her name is Lyra and carries some importance.
At the same time, through a series of events he forms a bond with Hannah Relf, who supplies him with background material about topics such as dust and the alethiometer , two topics which occur in the later books.
As Malcolm delves more into Lyra’s uniqueness, dust and the alethiometer he discovers that he is in the centre of a conspiracy plot which involve the three main topics he is discovering. Eventually a flood breaks out, and Malcolm and Lyra ,with the help of kitchen aid, Alice, escape on the canoe la Belle Sauvage and try deliver Lyra to her true father, avoiding challenges which crop up on their journey.
I have tried my hardest to keep the book’s summary brief but so much happens that is essential to the plot that I had to go into some detail. I left out many important things, such as the books setting, which is a religious dictatorship of sorts, the importance of daemons, an shape shifting animal companion who is bound to their owner and the Rusakov Field. It’s more fun if the reader discovers these things. As I said earlier I am making the plot and details sound complex. Philip Pullman’s writing style makes everything easy to understand.
La Belle Sauvage has quite a few subtexts. The major one attacking dictatorships. The governing body of the book is called The Magisterium, who prevent people from saying heresies, often using brute force to silence individuals. At one point in the book a system is set up where children can report adults to the authorities, which definitely has shades of Nazi Germany or North Korea.
I also saw quite a bit of climate change. As there’s the flood, the characters wonder why such freak events are happening. This is self-explanatory considering what is going on in the world.
Elsewhere there’s homages to Noah’s Ark, The Odyssey and British folklore. La Belle Sauvage is definitely a meaty book, yet it’s fun and does take the reader along. Whether you wanted to know or not, I will be reading the Dark materials trilogy as I now have a solid understanding of the concepts which left me a bit perplexed in Northern Lights.