I was recommended Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy by a friend one day and I quite fancied some fantasy reading on holiday so I went on Amazon pretty soon after the meet up (at Quilliam Brothers just in case you’re interested). I didn’t like the covers of the individual books but the gift edition with all three novels in one was alright so I bought that (I just checked on Amazon again, the covers for the individual books have changed and improved!). And being three volumes in one book and hardcover, it was impossible to go on holiday with it (especially flying with flybe…). Next thing that happened was that I found La Belle Sauvage in the university library (requested by students and bought with the fines from overdue books…) and got reading. I was curious enough about the boy Malcolm and the nuns so I decided to buy La Belle Sauvage on a Kindle on holiday. As much as I like the feeling of holding paper books in hands and seeing them snuggle beautifully on my shelves, one has to be practical about travel and my shelves are filling up pretty quick. Plus, the dictionary function on Kindle is immensely helpful.
In summary, that’s how I found myself reading Philip Pullman for the first time and finished the book in seven days. Before saying anything good or bad about the story itself, it’s so good to be able to enjoy a book without struggling with it like I do with most of my theological books.
Jonathan if you’re reading, what’s coming now will be the test of our friendship ;)
A brief intro from Wikipedia: His Dark Materials is an epic trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman consisting of Northern Lights (1995) (published as The Golden Compass in North America), The Subtle Knife (1997), and The Amber Spyglass (2000). La Belle Sauvage (the one I’m talking about in this post) is a fantasy novel by Philip Pullman published in 2017, the first volume in a planned trilogy named The Book of Dust. Set around 12 years before the start of His Dark Materials.
Love the beautiful book covers!
I realised pretty soon after I started that this was the story that happened chronologically before Northern Lights (which is the first volume of His Dark Materials). It feels like (and probably is) background building rather than a story on its own right. For this reason, I can only give it three out of five and I would not recommend it. (My test is usually, if I can go back in time with my current knowledge of this book, would I recommend myself to read it? The answer is no.) Here are my complaints:
- The environment does not vary very much. There were mainly the inn and the priory for the first part of the book and the flood for the second. I know this was England. But rain, wind, cold throughout a whole book was too much.
- The storyline happens like this: Part one: boy Malcolm hears things in the inn/priory/school, goes to Dr Relf’s house and tells her all about it. Relf tells Malcolm something else in return and then passes all information to a secret agency. Part two: baby Lyra’s physical needs basically dictate the plot. She constantly needs feeding, changing and washing, so repeatedly the canoe stops to build a fire, boil water, wait for the water to cool, feed her, wash her and change her. Bad things happen in between feeds and changes; I suppose these are the ‘adventures of La Belle Sauvage’ (the name of the canoe).
- Loose threads. Things happen without much explanation. What was that mad and brutal fight between Bonneville and Coram van Texel about? Why did Bonneville so stubbornly try to kill Lyra and Alice and chase them at all cost? What were the wild dogs in Malcolm’s dream? What was the aurora in his eyes? What happened to Mr Taphouse who disappeared before the flood and the nuns after the flood? What was the consequence of the nun mixing up babies on purpose? I suppose most of the answers to these questions are in Northern Lights, but without it, this is not making much sense.
- The darkness. OK for the atmosphere building, it rained almost non-stop and the weather was just miserable overall. But there was not a single soul who was good and helpful along the way during the flood (OK there was one). The seemingly powerful and knowledgable men were completely useless until the last page. It’s just wearying to read.
- Lord Asriel clearly did not love his daughter. Malcolm and Alice struggled through death for 200 pages to get Lyra to him for safety. He got rid of her immediately on the next page without any hesitation.
Enough rant. Here are what I love about it:
- Malcolm is such a good boy. All the characters are vivid in my mind’s eye.
- I love the chapter when the flood came and the action finally kicks in. That was a breathtaking chapter.
- The episode about children reporting teachers reminded me of the similar story when Dumbledore was taken away from Hogwarts in Harry Potter, but also many real-life examples throughout history. Actually, the whole episode of the oppression and danger of the ‘Church’ was really interesting and discussion-worthy.
I will go on to the brick-like His Dark Materials trilogy at some point and I’m very interested to see how good they are (and hope they are better than La Belle Sauvage).
What have you been reading recently?
(Jonathan are we still friends?)