When Philip Pullman’s new trilogy was announced, he told us it wasn’t a prequel, but the first book, The Belle Sauvage, is definitely a prequel to His Dark Materials. If you haven’t read the original books I would do so first, as even though this story happens before, there are certain things revealed that I would consider spoilers.
This is the story of how Lyra ended up at Jordan College, via a biblical scale flood and the rise of the Magisterium. Malcolm Polstead is the son of a landlord and is generally a well-liked boy among those who visit The Trout. He learns a lot by listening to conversations, those drinking at the pub rarely pay attention to a boy. He learns that the nuns are looking after an infant, a little girl who is attracting a lot of attention.
The child is, of course, baby Lyra and if you’ve read His Dark Materials, you know all about the prophecy and why people might want to control her. Malcolm becomes quite fond of Lyra and when Oxford floods, he rescues her in his canoe, The Belle Sauvage of the title.
It’s about wrong and less wrong. Bad and less bad.
It shows a little of the growing relationship between child and daemon, Pan must grow and learn as much as Lyra. She babbles away to him, teaching him to babble back, which is part of how we learn to speak. Baby daemons also present themselves as baby animals, Pan is so cute.
I was a little bit irritated that Alice was repeatedly referred to as being there to take care of the baby and that Malcolm wouldn’t be able to. However, I did have to remind myself that Malcolm is pretty young and Alice was older, and maybe it was more that than their gender dictating the parenting skills.
Malcolm’s schoolmates are encouraged to tell on anyone who might be doing or thinking anything heretic, the Church setting up an organisation reminiscent of the Hitler Youth. It didn’t really expand on anything about Dust, I expect that is coming later, it felt like things were moving into place for the events of His Dark Materials.
Once we use the word spiritual, we don’t have to explain anymore, because it belongs to the Church then, and no one can question it.
I don’t think it was as good as the original trilogy, it is more of an adventure with a hint of subtext, rather than exploring the big themes of this series. I did enjoy it though and it’s nice to have a bit of back story to a much-loved character. I am most excited about reading the books that are set later on, when Lyra is older.
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