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La Belle Sauvage Hardcover – 2017
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2017: Philip Pullman is that rare breed of author whose books are written for young people but are read and adored equally by adults. It’s been nearly two decades since Pullman wrote The Amber Spyglass, so it was both thrilling and terrifying (please be amazing, please be amazing…) when I first cracked open The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage and began to read. I need not have worried--The Book of Dust is Pullman at his best. Neither prequel nor sequel to His Dark Materials trilogy—Pullman calls this an “equel” and La Belle Sauvage is the first volume of a companion trio that can stand on its own. There are some familiar faces—most notably an infant Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon--and a particularly delightful new one: a boy named Malcolm whose kind heart, curious mind, and unerring sense of good, are the reason baby Lyra makes it to the safety of Jordan College. As in his earlier books, Pullman explores themes of religious and political freedom, the nature of good and evil, science and philosophy. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is a glorious adventure that delivers heart-in-your-throat moments and much to think about as we wait (not so patiently) to see what will happen next…--Seira Wilson --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"Reading this novel is like standing in a room in which suddenly all of the windows have blown open at once." —Slate
"It's a stunning achievement, the universe Pullman has created and continues to build on." —The New York Times
"A phantasmagoric waterborne odyssey. Mr. Pullman is a supple and formidable writer." —The Wall Street Journal
"Enthralling, enchanting. The first half reads like a thriller. The story becomes darker, deeper and even more engrossing when a cataclysmic flood overtakes Southern England. Too few things in our world are worth a seventeen year wait: The Book of Dust is one of them." — The Washington Post
"Pullman's writing is as deftly brilliant as ever. A triumphant return to the alternate Oxford we love."—Bustle
"The Book of Dust passes by in one tumultuous wave of literature, that leaves you queasy, but wanting the next volume as quickly as possible. It deserves not only a reread, but an unpacking. It is not a one and done novel, something that, in a time where binging and passing is the status quo. This is a novel to digest. One to take in, let settle, and then revisit. We are lucky to have Pullman's words. Words that will continue to nourish the souls and imaginations of readers for a long, long time." —Hypable
"Once again, Pullman’s fantasy arrives precisely when it can teach us the most about ourselves, as if it were guided by Dust itself." —Entertainment Weekly
"High-octane adventure accompanies ingenious plotting." The Times (London)
"Lyra Silvertongue, Lyra Belacqua, but really just Lyra: one of those characters—Pip, Emma, Lolita—who is on first-name terms with her public."—The New York Times Magazine
"Pullman's imagery is as dazzling as ever. La Belle Sauvage reveals the incredible ways in which 'ordinary' children can react whenplaced in extraordinary circumstances: with kindness, bravery and cunning." —The Bookseller
"A rollicking adventure. Delightful." —Mother Jones
"A stunning, otherworldly journey. La Belle Sauvage dives deeply into magic and intrigue. What a gift it is to be allowed back into this universe." —BuzzFeed
"Full of acute observation. A rich, imaginative, vividly characterized rite-of-passage tale." —London Sunday Times
"Thrilling and thought-provoking." —Times Literary Supplement
"A singularly beguiling work of fantasy. [Pullman is] perhaps the best fantasy writer alive." —The A.V. Club
"A profoundly compelling foundation for a new trilogy." —Vox
"This tense, adventure-packed book will satisfy and delight Pullman's fans and leave them eager to see what's yet to come" —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Pullman is an easeful storyteller and an intricate and inventive world-builder, and everything he has to write is worth reading." —The Telegraph
"Magisterial storytelling will sweep readers along; the cast is as vividly drawn as ever; and big themes running beneath the surface invite profound responses and reflection." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Luminous prose, heady philosophical questions, and a lovable protagonist combine with a gripping plot sure to enchant fans and newcomers alike." —SLJ, starred review
"Pullman demonstrates that his talent for world building hasn’t diminished, nor has his ability to draw young characters—here, Malcolm, who is layered enough to carry an adventure through multiple dimensions." —Booklist, starred review
"Pullman's immense powers of kinesthetic visualization keep the story pulsing on an epic scale."—The Guardian
"An immersive, creepy, edge-of-your seat adventure." —Shelf Awareness
"To connect once more with a fictional universe of such great power is a delight." —Financial Times --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Like the author's previous work, La Belle Sauvage is unapologetically political and unabashedly Liberal. There is, for example, The League of Alexander, a club of adolescent religious snitches who squeal on their families' or friends' slightest misdeed (the League's eponymous hero turned his family in for execution). They're little angels compared to the positively terrifying Sisters of Obedience who are running what is essentially a child abuse and slavery racket. Some people of faith escape his scorn but not many. To those who complain Pullman is anti-Religion I say "you're definitely on to something." If it bothers you, you may want to avoid him. In addition to Organized Evil (religion), there is just plain wickedness, personified in the wonderfully smarmy and grotesque character of Gerard Bonneville complete with a leg-gnawing hyena daemon. A former professor and full-time pervert they share some of the creepiest and therefore most gripping scenes.
La Belle Sauvage starts off rather slowly introducing new characters, providing backstory to the main character, Malcolm Polstead and his coterie of friends and newly made enemies. Malcolm reminds one of the adage "still waters run deep" and like Lyra and Will Parry he is young enough to be naive but a bit reckless in his bravery; not classically educated but instinctively intelligent, and always curious. He and his daemon Asta (who hasn't settled into a single form yet) create a character whose depth and humanity is surprising in one so young but entirely believable. He and his motley crew--the scholar Hannah Relf, Gyptian Coram von Texel and Alice the kitchen maid are a formidable force for Good. Their first priority is to save Lyra from the clutches of the Church and her vicious mother. When the flood hits, the action rises with the waters. La Belle Sauvage kicks into a higher gear.
So why not 5 Stars? Frankly, The first book lacks the poetry of His Dark Materials, a brilliant riff on Milton's Paradise Lost. There are no gay angels falling in love or Serafina Pekkalas bashing about on a "broom" of pine branches, no Subtle Knives, peculiar Texans or talking polar bears with a drinking problem dressed in armor. La Belle Sauvage is very Sauvage but not so Belle. Compared to the first trilogy The Book of Dust seemed prosaic. In fact, Malcolm resembles Will a bit too much; one could swap out Coram for John Faa. The Book of Dust feels comfortable rather than electric. That's not to say it isn't entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. It is, however a bit of disappointment. I was hoping for more spark and inventiveness, not the occasional shiver. However, I am very glad the author has revisited his finest creation. I will be waiting in line, eager to read books 2 and 3. So too should you.
Here’s an example of what makes Philip Pullman’s writing so special. It’s early in the first volume of his new fantasy trilogy, The Book of Dust. Malcolm, eleven years old and the son of an innkeeper, is the protagonist. He’s rock solid, good and decent, and observant beyond his years. As in the previous trilogy, His Dark Materials, Malcolm, like everybody in this imagined world, has his own daemon, an opposite sex animal familiar tied to him both geographically (if the familiar moves away from her master, the master must follow) and psychically. The choice of animal for one’s daemon tells something about one’s character. Later in the book, the evil Gerard Bonneville is revealed as having a hyena as his daemon, and unlike the closeness that exists between other masters and their daemons, Bonneville abuses his.
Now to the example I promised. Malcolm has just been permitted to see the little baby, six-months-old Lyra, who is being cared for in a nunnery near his father’s inn. Read on.
"Malcolm had never seen a baby at close quarters, and he was struck at once by how real she seemed. He knew that would be a silly thing to say, so he held his tongue, but that was his impression all the same: it was unexpected that something so small should be so perfectly formed. … Her daemon, the chick of a small bird like a swallow, was asleep with her, but as soon as Asta [Malcolm’s familiar] flew down, swallow-shaped too, and perched on the edge of the crib, the chick woke up and opened his yellow beak wide for food. Malcolm laughed, and that woke the baby, and seeing his laughing face, she began to laugh too. Asta pretended to snap at a small insect and thrust it down the baby daemon’s gaping mouth, which satisfied him, making Malcolm laugh harder, and then the baby laughed so hard she got the hiccups, and every time she hicked, the daemon jumped.
“ 'There, there,' said Sister Fenella, and bent to pick her up; but as she lifted the baby, Lyra’s little face crumpled into an expression of grief and terror, and she reached round for her daemon, nearly twisting herself out of the nun’s arms. Astra was ahead of her: she took the little chick in her mouth and flew to place him on the baby’s chest, at which point he turned into a miniature tiger cub and hissed and bared his teeth at everyone. All the baby’s dismay vanished at once, and she lay in Sister Fenella’s arms, looking around with a lordly complacency.
Malcolm was enchanted. Everything about her was perfect and delighted him."
That’s magical: simply presented but with an aura of wonder to it. And even as the scene is being set –a young boy seeing a baby for the first time—magic (the daemons) intrudes on the scene. You have also a sense of what Malcolm is like and a vague premonition that Lyra’s and Malcolm’s relationship will be important to the rest of the book, probably –possibly? —across the remaining books of this trilogy as well.
La Belle Sauvage (the name of Malcolm’s most treasured possession, a canoe) inhabits the same world of magic-physics as the preceding trilogy –sub-atomic dust leaking in through cracks of the world, scientists’ exploitation of the uncertainty principle, a weird but believable instrument that lies half way between astrology and physics and is called the alethiometer, which measures truth but uncertainly. The events of this series take place earlier than the happenings of the previous series but the enemy is the same: a devouring church hierarchy cracks down on heresy, cowing young and old as efficiently as ever did Torquemada. (“How can knowing something be sinful?” Malcolm asks one time.)
The first trilogy, His Dark Materials, came close to saving my sanity. It came out when I was leaving for Dubai to take a job twelve time zones away from my family. I was lonely! I needed something all-consuming to read to take my mind off my isolation. I finished the first installment on the plane ride over (twenty-one hours, seventeen on the plane); the second, soon after I arrived; and the third, as soon as it came out --in England, not the United States –it came out there earlier. Like those books, La Belle Sauvage offers small (turns of phrase, particular descriptions of places or people) and large (scary, powerful bad guys, and good guys with interesting characters and pasts; a large-scale, almost cosmic fight for noble goals) pleasures. It will keep the reader reading from start to end with no stop.