It’s really never been in any doubt that Philip Pullman is a master storyteller, and I was intrigued when I heard he was bringing out another book to go alongside the His Dark Materials trilogy. ‘La Belle Sauvage’ has been described very cleverly as an ‘equal’ in terms of the series, and that is exactly right I think. This title takes us right back to the very beginning, when the baby, Lyra, has just been born. With mysterious groups determined to find her, she is hidden in a nunnery on the edge of Oxford. Our main characters in this story are Malcolm, son of The Trout inkeeper, and Alice, a complex and dour girl. With the forces gathering, a flood of biblical proportions hits the land, and Malcolm & Alice are forced to flee with Lyra in Malcolm’s beloved boat ‘La Belle Sauvage’. Pursued by the enigmatic Bonneville and his disturbing daemon, Malcolm and Alice face a huge journey to take Lyra to her father in London, where they hope she can be protected.
The flood and journey are so vividly described that I spent a couple of days feeling that I was wading waist-deep in flood water myself. Malcolm and Alice have to contend with the practicalities of travelling with a small baby, keeping her clean, fed and warm in the deluge, as well as coming across fairies and almost mythological places. Their relationship develops from initial distrust to something more confusing for them both through their shared experiences.
I have read much about Pullman’s feelings on religion and his hope to reclaim joy and positivity. This book pitches dark, adult forces against the practicality of children living in the real world. In case you weren’t aware, ‘The Trout Inn’ really does exist, and I have walked to it from Oxford, and had a lovely lunch there! It is also close to the ruins of an old abbey, and being able to picture these scenes in my head gave the book even more impact for me. This is the first of 3 titles, and I can’t wait for the next one to be published.