La Belle Sauvage

Philip Pullman

Book cover

Read aloud with Elise. I loved the original Dark Materials trilogy so was very excited for this one. I was also curious about how Pullman would maintain interest since this book (and the planned subsequent two) deal with the years when Lyra was 0-12, and we of course (a) know that Lyra survives and (b) know how other things turn out in general. Given this, I think LBS is pretty successful. This one might have it easiest out of the prequel trilogy, since Lyra is a baby (if other amazing things had happened to her when she was a child, I would assume she would remember them and they would have come up at some time or another). Malcolm and Dr. Relf are pretty memorable and likeable characters. The “great flood” narrative is quite evocative and has some obvious associations. (If anything, I was surprised that Pullman didn’t have the orthodox religious characters making references to Noah.) Although Mrs. Coulter plays a role in the book, the primary antagonists are a little more mustache-twirly and not quite as compelling as Coulter is as a villain. While the books of the original trilogy have a bit of a steampunk adventure feel, LBS ventures into the realm of ancient British/European legend and lore in a way that is just weird enough to be satisfying. (Rumpelstiltskin is relevant in a way that’s actually pretty cool.)

My one complaint with this book is that Dr. Relf’s storyline is not re-linked with Malcolm’s at the end. I hope the subsequent books will continue to follow her, although I assume given the other books that we’ll always have a child protagonist.

One small note, for those considering reading this with children, I found it to be moderately more adult than HDM. There is one f-bomb that totally surprised me, two instances of sex which, while not described graphically, are pretty clear about what’s going on, and several references to sexual assault (including one of the aforementioned scenes). I don’t think any of it is gratuitous, but it is notably different than the prior books, and readers-aloud should be ready for it.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars