La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Posted November 26, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

La Belle Sauvage

La Belle Sauvage

by Philip Pullman

Series: The Book of Dust #1
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf on October 19, 2017
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Target Age Group: Middle Grade
Rating: ★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them, a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .


Malcolm has heard strange rumors about the baby with the nuns.

It’s said she’s the daughter of a powerful man and the woman who started the League of St. Alexander.  It’s said the CCD is looking for her.  It’s said she’s the answer to a prophecy.  When Malcolm sees the little girl, he doesn’t see what the big deal is.  She’s cute, but she’s just a baby – how could she be so dangerous.

Malcolm is certainly about to find out as he is whisked away into a world of secrets and spies.  When the biggest flood London has ever seen comes to wipe everything away, it’s up to Malcolm to make sure baby Lyra is safe – not only from the water, but from the men and women chasing after her.  Especially the man whose daemon is missing a leg….

La Belle Sauvage is not The Golden Compass, but it is quite enjoyable.

Like many of the people reading this book, I have a history with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.  I read them growing up… over and over again… and Lyra and Will are a part of my heart.  When La Belle Sauvage was announced as a prequel, I was a bit skeptical about the choice of setting, but immediately pre-ordered it because of course I was going to read this book… I’ve only been waiting about 20 years for it.  If a reader is expecting for find Lyra and Pan back in all their glory, think again.

THAT SAID, lets talk about Malcolm and Asta, because they’re also delightful new characters.  Mal isn’t this big, brave child – he’s the sort that simply does the things that need doing.  The things he feels are right.  This quality is so important to me in Lyra’s character, and it was amazing to see it in Malcolm.  These children are regular children who see a bad situation, are very careful, and do the right thing as best they can.  Malcolm is good to his parents and kind to baby Lyra.  He is helpful to the nuns when he visits them.  He does what he needs to do, but he doesn’t do it was a self-righteous flash and flare… something fairly rare in heroes.

It’s an awfully long book.

This is not a complaint, necessarily… more of an observation.  La Belle Sauvage comes in at nearly 500 pages, but most of that is just travel.  There are little adventures along the way, and they are all interesting in their own right, but they are pointless.  They do nothing to move along the plot – they merely distract the reader while we wait for the trio to reach their destination.  There were sections when I found myself asking “Wait, what’s going on?  Who is this?  Why do I care?” which is not particularly good.

For as much as I liked Malcolm and grew to like Alice… I just felt like this book was really draggy and lacked the overall purpose that pulled you into The Golden Compass and the other books.

Plot of The Golden Compass: stop the horrible people who are severing daemons!
Plot of La Belle Sauvage:  make sure Lyra stays safe.

No wonder it’s a bit draggy and underwhelming.  It’s fun and interesting, don’t get me wrong, but I felt strongly that it didn’t live up to the original series.  It felt like a quite long sub-book, like the novellas Once Upon a Time in the North and Lyra’s Oxford.

Fans of His Dark Materials may be disappointed.

I am not, by any means, saying that you should not read this book.  You should.  Malcolm is great, Alice is great, and baby Pan will make your heart melt into a puddle of goo.  But you absolutely cannot go into this book expecting a brilliant revival of His Dark Materials.  It doesn’t happen.  Not even a little.  I think even the most open-minded readers will fall into this feeling as though it lacks something.

I feel it’s also interesting to know… the second book in the Book of Dust trilogy is called The Secret Commonwealth.  It’s not set after this one, so we’ll never know what happened precisely with Oxford Street or The League of St. Alexander or Mal and Asta.  It’s set twenty years in the future, long after the events of all the currently published books in this world.  This really further cements my feeling that this are extended novellas and I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★
Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Pacing: ★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★


The Book of Dust Stays On My Shelf

This one only barely stays on my shelf!  Pullman’s Once Upon a Time in the North actually got donated.  This one stays because:

– Malcolm is sweet.
– Alice redeems herself.
– Baby Pan is the cutest.
– It’s the first book in a series that is still ongoing and I intend to continue, so I may need to re-read.

It’s possible down the road I may rethink this and donate it – I’m really not sure about it’s re-read value for me.  It was draggy and I got a bit bored in the second half.  I really feel like there were a lot of unanswered plot strings that won’t be addressed in book two, since it’s twenty years in the future.  Very much on the fence about this one.


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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2 responses to “La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

  1. Okay, I had no idea that the second book in this series would be set years later and won’t be following this one’s plot. I have to admit, I am feeling a bit confused and betrayed right now, ahah.
    I’m just like you, I grew up with the His Dark Material series, fell in love with Lyra and Will and I hold their story so close to my heart. I was so eager to read this book and get back into that world, even just for a little while. I really liked the world and the characters were interesting, but I will admit that, yes, it felt a bit like a long book and I didn’t get the extraordinary feeling I had while reading The Northern Lights, filled with mystery and action and craziness overall. La Belle Sauvage was quite great, I had a great time reading it, but it lacked something to be extraordinary, I agree.
    Great review! 🙂

    • Amber

      I had no idea about The Secret Commonwealth until I read it in a different review and honestly it changed SO MUCH of my opinion of this book. Because loose ends are okay in book one, because you’re going to tie them up in book two… right? … Nope. The betrayal is REAL. I agree that it was great, but it wasn’t the type of book it was before… pfft. My opinion on this book requires a lot of flailing because it was a good enough book, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

      In a different way, my hopes are a bit up for The Secret Commonwealth because looking at the description on Goodreads, it seems we get Lyra back. Although if she’s not working to find a way back to Will, my heart will probably break.