A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Book of Dust, Book 1: La Belle Sauvage is the first in what author Philip Pullman calls an "equel" trilogy that matches up with his trilogy His Dark Materials. You don't have to read the first trilogy to follow this book, but it really helps. The main character in His Dark Materials, Lyra, is a baby in this story, but still has an important part to play. Eleven-year-old Malcolm and 16-year-old Alice try to save her from a kidnapping and a flood, and from a mentally unstable man who constantly stalks them. This man is maimed, shot, beaten, stabbed, and eventually killed. He beats his own daemon (companion animal that represents part of his spirit) and is said to have an unhealthy interest in young boys. A teen girl is held down by her arms with the threat of sexual violence. Kids are shot at and black out when they're hit on the head. Many die in the catastrophic flood, including friends close to Malcolm whose building collapses on them. Also of note: There's plenty of drinking and some smoking among adults, with Lyra given a sip of alcohol to keep her quiet in a dangerous situation. A sex scene is witnessed by Malcolm from the neck up, with moaning. Strong language is infrequent, but sometimes includes "s--t" and (once) "f---ing." Similar to the His Dark Materials trilogy, La Belle Sauvage deals with some deeper religious and philosophical issues. Freedom of thought and expression fight against religious intolerance. Malcolm and Alice are brave and resourceful in the face of much hardship.
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What's the story?
In THE BOOK OF DUST, BOOK 1: LA BELLE SAUVAGE, Malcolm is an 11-year-old who helps out in his parents' pub and across the river at a convent. When the nuns get a new charge at the convent, a 6-month-old baby named Lyra, Malcolm is fascinated with her and asks to see her whenever he's there. He's not the only one who's bent on seeing her. A creepy man named Bonneville comes to the pub one night asking about her. When Malcolm catches Bonneville beating his own daemon (animal extension of the human spirit that accompanies all humans in this world), he knows something is very off about him and vows to keep Lyra away from him. And then there's Lord Asriel, Lyra's father, who's forbidden by law from seeing his daughter. Asriel convinces Malcolm to help him, though, and they sneak over in Malcolm's canoe La Belle Sauvage. After Asriel visits Lyra, he makes his escape in La Belle Sauvage and promises to return the boat. The boat comes back by way of a Gyptian friend of Asriel's, and it's fixed up better than it ever was. Malcolm is thrilled until the Gyptian issues a warning: A massive flood is coming, and he should prepare La Belle Sauvage for the disaster. Not long after the warning, it starts to rain and rain. And in the chaos, Bonneville makes his move to kidnap Lyra.
Is it any good?
As with the His Dark Materials trilogy, this "equel," not prequel, fascinates with its mixture of theology, philosophy, mystical fantasy, and those cool talking spirit daemons every human possesses. If it has one fault, it's that it builds up layer upon layer of mystery and then solves very little of it beyond who killed a spy near the beginning. Readers will want to know more about Bonneville, the villain, right away. The children are constantly stalked by this nightmarish man with few answers as to why. And why is he beating his daemon? And how is he almost controlling people's thoughts and opinions of him? It's so fascinating -- you can't say the word "fascinating" enough when describing this book -- yet we get no closer to understanding Bonneville in this first installment.
When the flood hits, La Belle Sauvage takes a surprising turn into the world of faeries, river gods, and the undead. Almost everywhere the canoe stops, the journey gets stranger, the stakes get higher. And your nails will get shorter and shorter. An abrupt finish promises more nail-biting until Book 2.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the League of St. Alexander in La Belle Sauvage. What happened when kids in the school were given the power to report on their teachers and friends? How did Malcolm's friendships change? How did the teachers' behavior change? How did the school as a whole suffer?
Were there any violent parts of the book that were hard to read? What makes Bonneville a particularly fearsome villain?
Did you read His Dark Materials before reading La Belle Sauvage? How do they compare?
- Author: Philip Pullman
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Boy Role Models, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf
- Publication date: October 19, 2017
- Number of pages: 464
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 24, 2017
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