It feels a little premature to review La Belle Sauvage with it being the first in a trilogy but I’m going to have a go anyway.
As a huge fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy, I was excited to hear that Philip Pullman was opening the door to Lyra’s world again. For those who haven’t partaken in these wonderful tales, they focus on Lyra Belacqua, a young girl who lives in an alternative universe and meets all sorts of strange creatures in her quest to save the world.
But back to La Belle Sauvage, the first of a prequel trilogy. The much loved Lyra is a baby in this story, so her ability to be the star of the show is limited which leaves new characters Malcolm and Alice to hold the reins and, for me, this is where things start to go a little sour. Malcolm is likeable but a bit like a watered down version of Will from the original books and Alice is a similarly light version of Lyra leaving them not much to offer we haven’t seen before. As for satellite characters, previously Pullman offered us ballooning cowboys, fighting bears and wise witches. This time, we’re offered some nuns and a researcher although it has to be said that the bad guy Bonneville and his vile daemon is a welcome addition and has the truly shocking moment of the story when he abuses his own daemon.
The book is definitely split into two and the first half is hard going to say the least, in fact it might be the longest set up ever with most of the action centring on the pub that Malcolm’s parents own and he works in. Things do pick up in the second half as Malcolm is finally on an adventure but this can be confusing at times and has a repetitive “kids against the odds” vibe.
When I think back to the first book in His Dark Materials, Northern Lights, it was edge of the seat stuff as landscapes and characters changed and a clear goal was in sight. Once you strip back all the filler of La Belle Sauvage, there isn’t much left which is a shame.
The storytelling is up to Pullman’s usual standard and although I’ve been quite down on it, it’s an enjoyable read but I would be interested to know the answer if Pullman was to be asked if this was the first story he would have written if he’d started there instead of when Lyra comes of age. Without a doubt I will read the next couple of books but I think that is because of my fondness for the originals rather than this outing.
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