The Book of Dust Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage
Author: Philip Pullman
I read this one prior to reading the original Golden Compass trilogy, and I’m not sure if that was the best idea or not but I found this to an interesting stand alone work that didn’t require additional context to understand. (I’ll also admit to listening to this as read by Michael Sheen, and he was an excellent narrator that really boosted my enjoyment of the book.) It suffers a little bit by clearly being a set up for a larger story, but the action was consistent throughout to keep me engaged.
The book begins with an infant being brought to some nuns to be raised, and immediately it’s apparent that the baby is of great interest to many important people. The main character in this book is Malcolm, the son of the innkeepers that live across from the nunnery who immediately becomes attached to the infant. Malcolm is a very fun character, good spirited and easy to root for. The main drama comes in the form of different adults wanting the baby, a giant flood, and the rise of a religious movement that threatens to remove anybody who doesn’t worship at the same altar.
The villain of the book is a creepy guy named Lord Bonneville, who has an equally creepy daemon that is a hyena. (For those that haven’t read the series, daemons are animals that are the embodiment of a person’s soul that always accompany people.) The back of the book has some thrilling pursuit sequences that end with a very thrilling climax. My understanding is the original trilogy is a young adult series, but this one definitely goes to some adult places, with murder, sexual assault and four letter words flying at parts.
I’m planning on reading these books in chronological order, switching the the original trilogy next, but I can see how that could be a bit jarring if the tone is not consistent throughout. From watching the first episode of the HBO series, I know Lyra’s dad and mom are main characters in that series as well, but I’m hoping Malcolm and Alice continue to appear as I really enjoyed their stories here and would like to see what happens to them in the future.