SUMMARY: (4 of 5 stars) This one is sort of a prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy that garnered Pullman so much notoriety and attention. And it’s a pretty good addition to that universe.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.
La Belle Sauvage is the name of a canoe. I just wanted to get that out of the way in case anyone is wondering.
Here’s the basic gist of the story. Malcolm Polstead lives in an inn with his parents on the bank of the Thames in Oxford, England. Across the river is a convent with a bunch of kindly nuns whom Malcolm helps with work and errands. He even takes them up and down the river in the eponymous canoe. And one day the nuns get a baby named Lyra Belacqua. DUN DUN DUUUNNNNNN. Intrigue ensues and some goons show up trying to get the baby and Malcolm joins the mess. There’s a giant tesseract of a flood and Malcolm takes the baby Lyra down the river to her father, Lord Azriel. And that’s how Lyra comes to be a resident of Jordan College.
The story is very straight forward and full of excitement. Malcolm is a likable and forthright young man. And he meets a lot of other interesting and well-drawn characters. We would expect nothing less of Pullman.
The only thing I did not like about the book was all the crazy adventures in the boat during the flood. It’s very Odysseus lost on the open seas or something. Except most of the incidents seem incomplete to me. It’s not clear how they relate to the arc of the characters or the story and, instead, feel very accidental. And they go on for a very long time.
Also, the other descriptions of the book that I’ve seen make it seem like Lyra plays a big role in the book as a character. But, really, she is just an infant and doesn’t actually do a lot. She functions more like a MacGuffin. That’s fine, but let’s stop acting like Lyra is a real character at this point.
Overall, it’s a very nice adventure story. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I’m excited to see what the next books in this new series bring.