la belle sauvage

Quick correction regarding my initial Book of Dust post – The Book of Dust is the name of the trilogy, La Belle Sauvage is the name of the first book. You can understand why I was mistaken; look at the cover again:



You know that feeling you get when you finish a book and you’re a little ruined for the next one, at least for a little while?

I marathon read this book in two sessions, finishing it up last night, and I’m still kind of digesting and recovering from gluttony. I don’t even know that I could really review it. I’m so horribly biased.

The story centers on Malcom Polstead, a quiet, observant, loyal, and good-hearted 11-year-old boy, who owns a canoe (which the book is named for). Oxford is hit with an epic flood (Biblical, even), and it falls to him (and his reluctant sidekick Alice) to protect infant Lyra against the various mysterious factions that are after her. It’s a compelling adventure story that also speaks to ideas about freedom of thought, politics, authority.

If I had to offer one criticism, it would be that some of their water-borne interludes raise questions that don’t get answered. There are some that say that parts of the book are slow, but I didn’t notice that. I was too busy getting lost in Pullman’s world again as seen through the eyes of our young, capable protagonist. He grows up quite a bit during the course of his voyage, and the slow changes in him, the bits about his duty and his emotions, are so tender and beautiful to read. La Belle Sauvage is more practical than it is magical, and that’s refreshing in a way. It was new and familiar all at the same time.

As I was reaching the end of the book, the right-hand stack of pages becoming thinner and thinner, I found myself reading more and more slowly, savoring each word more carefully. I think I might have read each sentence on the last two pages two or three times. I wanted them to linger and echo in my brain – they have to last me until the next volume.