I haven’t read Philip Pullman’s bestselling His Dark Materials YA trilogy, nor have I seen the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, so when I cracked open Pullman’s newest, La Belle Sauvage, it was with fresh, unknowing eyes. La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in The Book of Dust trilogy, is actually a precursor to The Golden Compass and is set 10 years before the plot lines at the start of that series take place.
This first book follows eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, the son of Oxford innkeepers, and his daemon Asta, on various adventures as he attempts to parse good from evil in the complex world around him, all the while shielding an orphaned infant, a baby named Lyra, from harm with the help of a girl named Alice.
While I was entertained by La Belle Sauvage and enjoyed reading it, I couldn’t help feeling that, from page one, I’d been dropped into this world, this Pullman universe, without a guide map. Perhaps all the big world building took place in His Dark Materials. Perhaps my view of this world, so like our own but also different, was small because I saw it solely through the eyes of the young protagonist and have no vision for what comes after. The story was interesting, engaging even, but felt slightly limited in scope. Also, while clearly setting the scene for the next book, the ending felt very rushed and haphazard, a sloppily tied bow at the end of a finely-plotted book.