Title: La Belle Sauvage
Author: Philip Pullman
Page Count/Review Word Count: 551
I think it’s pretty safe to say I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I guess I’ve been waiting for this book ever since I was a kid because the His Dark Materials trilogy is my favourite trilogy of all time. This book is the first book in an accompanying trilogy called The Book of Dust which runs alongside the His Dark Materials books, and I’m still not too sure what to make of it.
To be honest, I was kind of expecting not to love it, purely because it’s natural to be a little ambivalent when a new installment of a series you like is released. It happened with the new Star Wars movie. But really, I think my issue here is that there just wasn’t much adventure. I think Northern Lights (also called The Golden Compass) worked well because at its heart, it’s an adventure novel. This one is many things, but calling it an adventure novel would be a push – especially for the first three hundred pages, where pretty much nothing happens.
La Belle Sauvage felt more like The Silmarillion than The Lord of the Rings, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to learn more about how the church works in Pullman’s world or if you’re interested in the research being done into the various meanings of the symbols on the alethiometer, this is your book. If you’re hoping for armored bears and parallel universes, you’ll be disappointed. Unfortunately, that was kind of what I was hoping for.
One way that I’ve been making sense of it is by thinking about how many times I’ve re-read Northern Lights. I just can’t imagine myself ever re-reading this one, although I am at least glad that I ticked it off. I’ll probably read the rest of the books in this new trilogy, but I won’t be in a rush to get them. It’s a shame, but I think a lot of that is down to me as a reader. It didn’t help that one of my favourite characters of all-time was a baby, either. I don’t like babies, and babies don’t do anything interesting.
Overall, it was fine, but I can’t help but feel like the series should have been left alone where it was. Personally, I would’ve preferred a new standalone series or more books in the Sally Lockhart series, but equally I appreciate that the demand was there for more books in Lyra’s world. And to this book’s credit, it still does a great job of world-building, it’s just that I would have liked the action to have left Oxford. Even in Northern Lights, when there’s no jumping between worlds, we still see a huge amount of the place. Here, it starts to feel kind of claustrophobic, as if all of this stuff is happening and we’re stuck at home, reading about it on the internet.
I think that if I didn’t have a vested interest in this series because of the previous trilogy, I would have DNFd this. As it is, I stuck with it – and it did get a little better. But it just didn’t feel fun.