I am confident in pronouncing that people will love the first volume of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, The Book of Dust, with the same helpless vehemence that stole over them when The Golden Compass came out in the mid-’90s, or even when they first met their partners or held their newborn children ... The sheer polyphony of his sourcing is audacious, and it shouldn’t work, but it does; reading this novel is like standing in a room in which suddenly all of the windows have blown open at once ... Pullman may write crackling adventures, but he also possesses what feels like direct access to everything that is wordless and watery in the human subconscious ... with La Belle Sauvage, the author hasn’t just stitched together sources, or glued whimsical new features atop a young adult template. This is a book rooted in elemental forces: earth, water, and fire. Its pages house a living soul.
...enthralling, enchanting ... The sly references to Oxford’s historical connection to British espionage enhance the novel’s resonance with our own world. Indeed, the first half of The Book of Dust reads like a thriller ... The Book of Dust feels more earthbound — in the best way — than the earlier trilogy. The cosmic clockwork of His Dark Materials, with its multiverses and metaphysics, becomes grounded in this new novel ... But there is plenty of magic here, too, not just daemons and startling prophecies but witches and specters, forays into Faerie, and Malcolm’s eerie, migraine-like visions of the aurora borealis. Too few things in our own world are worth a 17-year-wait: The Book of Dust is one of them.
La Belle Sauvage sometimes lags. Curiously for such a gifted storyteller, Pullman includes long stretches of flat dialogue in which Malcolm essentially repeats information he has already heard to new people who have not yet heard it. There’s a bit more detail than is necessary about how hard it is to change and feed a baby while escaping a flood in a boat ... I recognize that my expectations are impossibly high and that, in literature as well as in romance, you cannot return to the exact feeling you had before. I’d like to think that Pullman is biding his time, laying down the groundwork for what is yet to come. And even with its longueurs, the book is full of wonder. By the end, when Malcolm and a young woman named Alice embark with Lyra on a perilous watery odyssey replete with strange undersea creatures and various other things not dreamed of in our philosophy, it becomes truly thrilling. It’s a stunning achievement, the universe Pullman has created and continues to build on. All that remains is to sit tight and wait for the next installment.
Pullman’s immense powers of kinaesthetic visualisation keep the story pulsing on an epic scale as enchanted allegory combines with a full-on retelling of the Biblical story of the flood ... Pullman has come to resemble the Ancient Mariner, shaking hoary locks, demanding we pay attention to the calamities gathering on all sides. The radiant devices and other wishful dreams of alternative futures have rather faded from view in this new book, and the child heroes are beleaguered and alone in their valiant struggle against huge, massed forces of harm. The tension in Pullman between deep attraction to magic and fierce atheistic pragmatism resolves itself into a commitment to art – especially shipshapeliness; this is a properly Romantic attitude. Just as his concept of daemons owes a lot to Coleridge’s ideas about inspiration, and his absolute trust in imagination rings with the hopes and beliefs of Keats and Shelley, so the commitment to the making of things as well as possible in the here and now expresses his faith that a well-made story, like the small, well-trimmed boat that carries the children on their long, dangerous journey, will offer shelter in any storm.
In this respect, his new novel, La Belle Sauvage, is not an addition to Lyra’s universe as much as it’s a clarification of themes that were first explored in His Dark Materials ...we [the readers] greet these elements of the story as welcome familiars, rather than tired points in the great constellation of Pullman’s universe, is a testament to his gifts as a storyteller. None of his characters are caricatures... Pullman is principally interested in examining how people respond when they confront some new reality of the world ... Like Pullman’s original trilogy, his new book is a bildungsroman, and it is a violent one ... In the world of La Belle Sauvage, growing up is a tragedy. It is in ours, too.
This cultural turn from metaphysics to metafictions helps to explain why so many readers, young and older, have greeted Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage as if it were the Second Coming ... He [Pullman] is also conversant with postmodernism’s delight in the endless play of signifiers, but doesn’t find that approach helpful when it comes to crafting dynamic, vividly realized tales capable of appealing to all ages ... While Pullman is adept at conveying abstract ideas, he also excels at capturing nuances of character, scene and emotion ... La Belle Sauvage is a thrilling and thought-provoking excursion deeper into this territory – but with a difference.
The plot takes off at a ferocious pace, with a spunky but barely educated orphan, Lyra, matching wits with brilliant scientist and explorer Lord Asriel at Jordan College in Oxford, where she is being raised by a cohort of elderly male scholars … Fans of Pullman’s earlier series will not be able to resist the pull of this new novel that returns readers to his alternate Europe with its swirl of fantasy, steampunk and danger intertwined. But those hoping for a satisfying conclusion to the earlier trilogy will have to be content with this appetizer and hope that the next two installments build to a full banquet.
In this case it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters, and Pullman crafts a singularly thrilling adventure for his young hero to embark on. Malcolm and a compellingly complex adversary-turned-ally flee an evil man with a ghoulish dæmon while trying to understand the unknowable forces acting around (and sometimes upon) them. Theirs is a classic coming-of-age story set in the world Pullman brought lavishly to life in His Dark Materials ... The result is a story smaller in scope than anything in His Dark Materials, and presents an even more mysterious version of our world. It’s like the great flood sends Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, in and out of multiple overlapping worlds, creating a fertile, enigmatic landscape to explore ... Even without the deep well of context of those other books of Dust, La Belle Sauvage stands on its own as a singularly beguiling work of fantasy. It’s sure to be devoured by readers young and old alike.
...Philip Pullman has returned to the parallel world he created with the first installment in a new trilogy ...frustrated with writers’ deployment of sexualized violence as a plot mechanism or way to demonstrate a particular character’s nefariousness. Coming from Pullman, that level of authorial laziness feels like a slap in the face ... It does not help that the female characters of La Belle Sauvage are feeble caricatures in comparison to the brilliantly rendered and immensely complex women of His Dark Materials ...the relative diversity of the earlier trilogy is almost entirely absent...a disappointment that the grandly realized ambitions of His Dark Materials feel muted in La Belle Sauvage; for me, the book holds little of the wonder and even less of the wise and well-seasoned hope of its predecessors ...can’t help longing for the Belle Sauvage that could have been.
...[a] gripping, vivid and upsetting book ... The author also makes wonderful use in this book of what must surely be his most enchanting contribution to literature: the daemon...For the novelist, and for the reader, daemons add a rich textual dimension: betraying the dark heart of a smiling villain; creating the opportunity for dialogue when a person is otherwise alone; allowing a character to hear and see things that his human senses might miss ... 'I’m profoundly interested in religion,' Mr. Pullman has written, 'and I think it’s extremely important to understand it. I’ve been trying to understand it all my life.' That is the strange beauty, the fearful symmetry even, at the heart of his novels about Lyra. Philip Pullman is a Jacob, wrestling with an angel: He grapples and battles in the darkness, but he cannot let go.
...what Pullman does is to lock together a simple adventure story – of a resourceful young boy facing risks and challenges in his little boat – with a resonant mythical underpinning... The chemistry between the two children is to some extent a reworking of the relationship between Lyra and Will in His Dark Materials...the narrative energy keeps up well: Pullman’s style is lively and physically specific, and the descriptions of the flood and its consequences are brilliantly done ...Pullman is as a storyteller who wants to persuade us to start attending again to the connections that we have lost the ability to see...Pullman’s world is not a 'disenchanted' one; it is a world where matter and meaning are woven inseparably.
Finally, with the publication of the new trilogy’s first volume, La Belle Sauvage, Pullman’s readers are seeing the fruits of his work these last 17 years, and I’m happy to say that the wait has been worth it … After a pleasant but slow-moving first half, La Belle Sauvage climaxes with a dramatic flood, not of biblical proportions—although several characters refer to its scriptural precedent—but rather of biblical implications … I found La Belle Sauvage more mature because it explores psychological darkness as well. There are whispers of pedophilia and sex crimes at the fringes of the story, which heightens the sense of danger, and underscores the theme of innocence and experience, which plays an essential role in Pullman’s books.
More than 20 years after the publication of the incredibly successful The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has traveled back to that parallel world with the release of one of the most anticipated books of the season, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage ... Early reviews suggest Mr. Pullman has hit it out of the park once again ... Although the Times concedes that Pullman’s storytelling occasionally lags with 'flat dialogue,' it nonetheless calls it 'a stunning achievement' ... It’s a crude, dangerous world in which the enemy is a fascist, authoritarian religious organization and its charismatic rapist-leader, and one Pullman, whose audience includes many youth, does not shy from.
The first part of the book moves at an expansive pace. Sometimes it feels as if we are not in a parallel universe at all, one example being a slightly jarring aside about public libraries ... Here Malcolm is set against an insane scientist with a three-legged hyena for a daemon, whose motivations are not quite sufficient enough to explain his actions, and consequently his presence doesn’t achieve the same level of threat as that provided by Mrs Coulter at her most sinister ... When the book reaches its second half, an urgent sense of excitement mounts, as Malcolm must contend with a terrible flood and undergo a frightening journey to safety. Pullman’s imagination is so enticing that any new window into it is welcome; and to connect once more with a fictional universe of such great power is a delight. Though La Belle Sauvage does not quite attain the fiery, magnificent heights of its predecessors, I’m certainly eager for the next two parts of this new trilogy; there are, after all, many more worlds to conquer.
...it’s stunning. It’s shaggy and messy, less mythic than the previous trilogy and more magic. If His Dark Materials is Paradise Lost for teenagers, then The Book of Dust is teenage Faerie Queene ... most importantly, the characters of La Belle Sauvage are as singular and lovable as the characters of His Dark Materials. Bitter, sarcastic Alice is slightly underdeveloped in this volume (there’s a troubling scene in which her sexual assault becomes important mostly for how Malcolm reacts to it; Pullman can and should do better than that), but her sour, cranky voice is profoundly endearing ... Reading La Belle Sauvage, you’ll remember again why you fell in love with The Golden Compass. Pullman has returned to his old world and expanded it, bringing in the old elements his readers loved but approaching everything from a new angle. This book can stand on its own or in the context of what came before it — and it’s also a profoundly compelling foundation for a new trilogy.
Readers need not have read His Dark Materials to be swept along on this quest... Pullman keeps the tension high as Malcolm finds clever ways to outwit and outrun their pursuers and Alice reveals a tender side ... Themes that permeated Pullman’s previous trilogy, including a sharp and subversive critique of organized religion, abuse of power, and the fragility of democracy, are at play once again — and just as timely as ever ... Luminous prose, heady philosophical questions, and a lovable protagonist combine with a gripping plot sure to enchant fans and newcomers alike.
La Belle Sauvage is a thrilling adventure and a welcome return to the world of daemons and Dust, though it does suffer from some common prequel pitfalls ... Pullman is great at getting readers to invest in brand new characters rather quickly, so it’s a disappointment to see them left hanging at the end ... Once again, Pullman’s fantasy arrives precisely when it can teach us the most about ourselves, as if it were guided by Dust itself.
The new characters are as lively and memorable as their predecessors; despite a few heavy-handed moments regarding the oppressiveness of religion, this tense, adventure-packed book will satisfy and delight Pullman's fans and leave them eager to see what's yet to come.