Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, are used to overhearing news and the occasional scandal at the inn run by his family. But during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm finds a mysterious object—and finds himself in grave danger.
Inside the object is a cryptic message about something called Dust; and it’s not long before Malcolm is approached by the spy for whom this message was actually intended. When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he begins to notice suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.
Lyra is at the centre of a storm, and Malcolm will brave any peril, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through it.
Having read and loved the His Dark Materials series earlier this year and the end of last year, I was excited to be catapulted straight back into the world that Lyra knew in the Book of Dust series. It was a little different to what I expected, but amazing all the same, as I knew it would be.
Malcolm is a common boy, his parents own an inn, he’s young – around 11 or 12 and he knows nothing of Dust, the parallel universes that appear in the His Dark Materials series, or what awaits his new friend later in life.
He keeps himself to himself, enjoying books and stories of adventure, while being a good lad helping out at the inn and the priory nearby. The nuns there trust him and he learns a lot from them and their handyman. He sees his life out in front of him and knows he’s nothing special.
That is until Lyra comes to stay. This little tiny baby fascinates him, he can’t seem to bear to be away from her and he’ll do anything to protect her. So when strange things start happening and he fears she’s at risk – theres only one thing to do; carry on protecting. I loved Malcolm and the way he takes on his role of protector. He sees in black and white – things are either wrong or right and he knows that the person after lyra is wrong. He can just tell. The relationship between him and Hannah is an interesting one too, because I feel she plays on his innocence but also his want for knowledge. She guides him on what she thinks is the right path but who knows if it is?
There are a lot of shady characters in this book. There are also a lot of things that made my blood boil. Manipulation and lies play big parts in The Book of Dust and the innocence of some of the characters makes you feel this is so much worse. I got so angry with the League of St Alexander. It was quite possibly one of the most dangerous ideas I’ve read about in fiction aimed at young adults. But it was so well thought out. Philip Pullman is clearly a genius, to get his readers blood boiling so well without it even being the main part of the story. I loved the idea of Oakley Street too and of course there were mentions of the Magisterium too, as you’d expect.
There is so much to make you feel uncomfortable in La Belle Savage, just as there was in His Dark Materials. But all of it you can believe happens and it means you question everything. Every action, every character. While it makes me sit on the edge of my seat, I love it and I can’t wait to pick up The Secret Commonwealth. I didn’t trust anyone except Malcolm and Coram Van Texel… and I only half trusted him!
If you loved His Dark Materials you have to get a copy of this. Although a ‘prequel’ of sorts, its worth knowing the background of the world before you read it so I would definitely read in order of publishing rather than in order of the events within the book!
The Book of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage was published on 6th September 2018 by Penguin. My copy was purchased from Amazon.