[2021-12-28] “La Belle Sauvage”

La Belle Sauvage” is the first book in the “The Book Of Dust” trilogy of fantasy-fiction books by Philip Pullman. It is based in the same fictional universe as the previous “His Dark Materials” (HDM) trilogy of books by the same author. I had immensely enjoyed reading the HDM books, so I was looking forward to reading this trilogy. So far, I am not disappointed.

The events in this book take place shortly after the birth of the heroine of HDM, Lyra Belacqua. Due to the prophecy about the significance of Lyra (“destined to bring about the end of destiny”), the oppressive Church wants to lay its hands on baby Lyra, while an assortment of people on the opposing side want to protect her. Her mother has no interest initially in raising this baby from an extramarital affair, while her father faced trial for murdering the husband of the mother (in self-defense, so he was acquited later, but lost custody of the baby). She has therefore been separated from her parents and is being raised by some nuns in a priory near the town of Oxford.

Little Malcolm Polstead stays near the priory and helps his parents run an inn, when he gets time away from his school. He is intelligent, has good mechanical skills, and likes to row about in his little canoe named “La Belle Sauvage”. He grows quite fond of the baby during his visits to the priory to help the nuns. On the other hand, he is wary of the slightly older Alice, who works in the inn run by his parents and alongside whom he has to work, as he serves and gathers dishes to the patrons of the inn.

Malcolm gets involved more and more with a secret service, known only as “Oakley Street”, due to his being a witness to an unfortunate incident and subsequent possession of a secret message. It turns out that this secret service is in opposition to the oppressive ways of the Church and that it wants to protect baby Lyra from it. After a particularly nasty flood, the lives of both Malcolm and Alice are turned topsy-turvy as together they try to save baby Lyra from a murderous maniac and from the agents of the Church. In the process, their relationship changes completely as they overcome many obstacles towards achieving their shared goal, have strange encounters on the way, and thus get to know each other much better.

The book tells a tale that is quite gripping on its own, so it is not really mandatory for the reader to have read HDM first. However, the reader would enjoy it much more if they have read HDM first, as there are quite a few references to concepts, events, and characters from HDM, even though this book is set in a time period before the events in HDM. The style of writing in this book is the same unpretentious and accessible style as in HDM, which I appreciated quite a lot. If you like a good story, irrespective of whether you like fantasy-fiction or not, I would recommend that you read this book.

I am now eagerly looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy.

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