La Belle Sauvage
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of my all-time favorite series. It has been seventeen years since the first volume, The Golden Compass, hit the shelves with rave reviews among critics and controversy. Pullman wove a fierce, fantastic and magical adventure, arguably one of the best fantasy series in young adult literature. The series is set in and out of a world where people’s psyches walk around outside of themselves as animals and other worlds are just a tear away in the fabric of the universe. Pullman roused young minds into the wonderment of big questions: What are we? What will become of us? Fans like myself were eagerly waiting to return to such a world. Anticipation was built and expectations were high. Fortunately, La Belle Sauvage did not disappoint.
Taking place ten years prior to The Golden Compass, La Belle Sauvage also swirls with gravity around Lyra Belacqua, the heroine in His Dark Materials, though in this volume she is an infant. The main character, Malcolm Polstead, becomes Lyra’s hero. Malcom is a curious, bright, but unassuming boy whose parents run an inn & pub called The Trout located along the river Thames. Working at the inn gives Malcolm plenty to do and two ears with plenty to overhear: especially the gossip about his friends, the nuns at Godstow priory across the river. What do they have that could have drawn the attention of the Magisterium? The title, La Belle Sauvage, is the name of Malcolm’s pride and joy: his canoe. Translated from French, the boat’s name means “wild beautiful.” Apparently there is no completely accurate translation to capture the essence of the phrase, so Malcolm keeps the French, despite the cheeky vandals who can easily modify the boat’s paint to read instead: “La Belle Sausage.” Beautiful sausage or not, Malcolm’s little boat will come to hold the fate of the lives of those who hold the future. Written with masterful storytelling, Philip Pullman’s latest book is the best fantasy book I’ve read since...the last time I read Philip Pullman.
I haven’t seen anything verifying a release date for volume II in the trilogy, but with any luck it will be published this coming fall. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend starting with either trilogy, but would advise skipping the dulled-down movie version of The Golden Compass. It’s nowhere near as brilliant as the books. La Belle Sauvage and other Philip Pullman books are available in print, ebook and audiobook formats through Missouri River Regional Library.