The acclaimed fantasy author of The Golden Compass returns to the parallel world of Lyra Belacqua and His Dark Materials for the first volume in a new epic adventure trilogy in which daemons, alethiometers, and the Magisterium all play a part.
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.