Book Review: La Belle Sauvage

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)
Published By: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date:  October 19, 2017
Page Count: 464
Buy it at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or IndieBound
Source: bought it
Genre: YA Fantasy

I feel like this release slipped under my radar for quite a while; made with little fuss or fanfare, as a companion series to His Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage is the first of three new works that will form The Book of Dust. I had no idea really what it would be about, or how it would fit with Lyra’s world, and it took some time to slot into place.

The hero is Malcolm, a resourceful and eager boy who works in his parents’ pub, just upriver from Oxford. He is friendly with most folk and loves to spend time on his treasured canoe, La Belle Sauvage. Why he called it that was never really explored, although the obvious correction to sausage was... Malcolm encounters a few characters we know and some we don’t as his world starts to change due to the shifting powers of the Magisterium. Suspicions grow in the public consciousness and Malcolm tries to navigate his way through mysteries he doesn’t understand to explain why everyone is so interested in a baby, taken in by his friends at the nearby convent. Then, after a chance encounter with Lord Asriel, a gyptian forecasts a flood, the like of which hasn’t been seen in living memory. This sets Malcolm off on a desperate adventure where his resourcefulness and tenacity are put to the test against the relentless pursuit of a madman as they play cat and mouse amidst the flood waters. All the while, scholars with alethiometers and the Magisterium are looking for him, as part of a larger power play.

I’ll admit to feeling like this fell quite short of the magic of His Dark Materials, and I wasn’t sucked in much for a lot of the book. The pace picked up halfway through though, and then I was considerably more gripped. The first half was simply setting the scene for what I think, and hope, will be an involving trilogy. I had certainly missed reading about daemons and I very much enjoyed that element of the story - although there were some very disturbing scenes with Malcolm’s pursuer and his daemon; after one scene I had to stop reading for a while as I found myself quite shaken by it.

I didn’t pick up any overarching themes in La Belle Sauvage as I did in His Dark Materials - perhaps it is too early for that to emerge within the Book of Dust series. I have faith that Philip Pullman is a great writer and he knows where he is going, but I’ll also admit that I didn’t feel this was a necessary series to write and I might recommend others to reread the original trilogy instead of setting out here until the second book is out and reviewed. I couldn’t really tell where the story will go next and, as much as Malcolm was a pleasant boy to spend time with, I won’t be rushing to the follow up despite my hopes. Given that we know how Lyra starts the His Dark Materials trilogy, the end of The Book of Dust seems a foregone conclusion, and at this stage I am not that invested in any of the other characters introduced to be very concerned what might happen to them in the meantime.


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 father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, 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, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. 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.


  1. I kind of avoided this author after hearing bad things about The Golden Compass. Haven't heard of this book.

    1. The movie, The Golden Compass, was a dreadful adaptation of Northern Lights, which was a WONDERFUL book. You should give that a chance - it's a modern classic.

  2. I'm a big fan of the series. I wish everyone would read the His Dark Materials trilogy because I want everyone to know what Philip Pullman knows about love, as explained through the third book, The Amber Spyglass. I read La Belle Sauvage in February and I quite enjoyed it. Malcolm is a good boy, and I love his reverence for baby Lyra. The little scene of Lord Asriel being parental with Lyra was heartwarming, the fairy tale scenes felt very magical to me, and Malcolm's first inklings of coming of age and perhaps starting to fall in love made me want to keep reading about him. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful addition to the His Dark Materials universe.


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