Review: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman- 3/10*
Phillip Pullman is clearly capable of great things. He achieves an absolute mastery of tone, style and plot in The Golden Compass. However, I found none of that mastery in this book.
Admittedly, I had major reservations going into it; yet, for all that, I did approach it with an open mind. I tried to appreciate it for what it was, though sadly that really isn’t much to get excited about. The writing is average, the plot slow and the new characters rather bland and ordinary.
For me, the biggest problem this book has is its lack of autonomy. The most exciting episodes of the plot were when characters from His Dark Materials were mentioned or even appeared in the flesh. Granted, this is a companion trilogy and, certainly, this was clearly meant to be read with the other trilogy in mind, but it still needs enough strength to stand on its own to an extent. And sadly it just doesn’t possess that strength. The plot was exceedingly underdeveloped in the first half and the second half only served to usher Lyra’s arrival in Oxford.
Is that all we’re getting Mr Pullman?
The new characters Pullman has written aren’t exactly remarkable or interesting. Malcolm, the protagonist, is a very typical leading man with his heroic traits and natural intelligence that has yet to find a proper channel. All in all, he’s a pretty standard person whose only real passion seems to be his boat named La Belle Sauvage. His friend, and possible love interest, Alice is angry with Malcolm because he doesn’t notice her. She kicks him, shouts at him and wishes for his attention. Her feelings were firmly established early on yet were majorly underworked through the rest of the novel.
In terms of narrative progression, I feel like the story barely moved forward. Again, for the first half it stayed in the same place with Malcom running errands, spying on people, checking on a six month old Lyra and reading a few books. In the second half he spent most of it on a boat arguing with Alice and looking for Lord Asriel. It lacked a certain sense of purpose and urgency. I never felt like the important characters were really in danger, obviously because we know where they’re going to end up from reading the previous trilogy.
Whist this book is far from being dreadful, it is completely unengaging. There’s so much in The Golden Compass worthy of literary criticism, but absolutely nothing here. I have no reason to actually read the rest of the series.
At this point I have to ask myself the essential question: why did he even write this?