Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy….
Malcolm’s parents run an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust—and the spy it was intended for finds him.
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he sees suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.
What started as a struggle turned into a gripping and exciting read.
Words belong in contexts, not pegged out like biological specimens.
Even though I finished off the His Dark Materials series by reading all the accompanying novellas and short stories, I still found it challenging to transition to the Book of Dust series. At first, going back in time to Lyra’s birth and changing to Malcolm’s perspective seemed uninteresting and unimportant. But once I made it through a few chapters, I started to love Malcolm. His perspective is different from Lyra’s, and the spy angle is a new twist on the story I thought I already knew. It was also nice to know that Lord Asriel wasn’t working against the Magisterium alone and that Oakley Street was there fighting the good fight as well, just in their own way.
If he'd been the sort of boy who acquired a nickname, he would no doubt have been known as Professor, but he wasn't that sort of boy. He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.
La Belle Sauvage takes a bigger turn into the realm of fantasy than the His Dark Materials series, especially during the flood. Pullman managed to weave a magical world while still keeping the intensity sky high throughout. Also, it felt that the His Dark Materials series started as middle-grade fiction and became more adult with each instalment. The Book of Dust series, rather than resetting, has forged ahead, and even though the protagonists are quite young, the material is more mature and darker than I expected.
The steamy, noisy kitchen was the safest place in the world, it seemed to him. Safety had never been anything to think about before; it was something you took for granted, like his mother's endless, effortless, generous food, and the fact that there would always be hot plates ready to serve it on.
So he knew that he was safe, and that Lyra was safe in the priory, and that Lord Asriel was safe because he'd escaped his pursuers; but there was danger all around, just the same.
The characters in La Belle Sauvage had their own vivid lives and unique motivations, making them all feel more complex than the role they play in the story. There’s a massive jump in time between La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth so I have no idea what to expect moving forward and what will tie these two stories together. I am hoping that most of these characters are still present and Pullman manages to make it so they have lived full, interesting lives in the meantime, keeping them complex and believable characters. I’m enjoying the stronger, darker fantasy vibe and hope this also continues moving forward.